women’s basketball Huskies, Samuelson prove they are tough enough

February 20, 2019 GMT

STORRS — Geno Auriemma has his own definition of toughness. It’s not, he says, what his team dealt with at times recently.

“Sometimes people confuse what toughness is, you know?,” the UConn coach said Tuesday following practice at the Werth Center. “They think pushing and shoving and showing you’re a tough guy, that’s toughness. We saw some of that the other day.

“Toughness is not getting caught up in that. Toughness is making a pass you have to make, getting a rebound you have to make, making free throws you have to make, making a 3 you have to make.”

The Huskies played one of their most physical games of the year this past Sunday against UCF. The Knights ratcheted up their intensity, hoping to wear their opponent down physically and mentally. Yet, the Huskies kept their composure and escaped unscathed in a 78-41 victory.

“In the second quarter, we didn’t respond to it too well,” guard Crystal Dangerfield said. “But we came out and did it the right way. We kind of took a deep breath, laughed it off, and got back to playing basketball again.”

Auriemma has questioned his team’s toughness on more than one occasion this year, particularly when it comes to rebounding. He reminded reporters Tuesday that these aren’t the Maya Moore-Tina Charles-Renee Montgomery Huskies, who played with a noticeable edge.

“That’s not who we are,” he said. “We have a different kind of toughness.”

These Huskies, ranked No. 3 in the country at 23-2 (11-0 AAC), Auriemma says, have the kind of toughness that one of their superstars, Katie Lou Samuelson, has.

It was Samuelson — averaging 19.0 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.6 assists — who was inadvertently whacked in the mouth, elbowed in the ribs, and called a “flopper,” yet managed to stick it out for 34 minutes against UCF. She scored 12 points, all at the free-throw line.

Samuelson’s teammates certainly noticed.

“Her toughness and energy, it rubs off on all of us — and that’s with anybody,” guard Christyn Williams said. “If somebody brings an energy to the floor, it’s going to spread like wildfire.”

Auriemma, who has mastered the art of motivation during his Hall of Fame career, is not always quick to dish out compliments to his players. However, even he can appreciate the steps Samuelson has taken to add different elements to her game.

“Lou’s a competitive kid,” Auriemma said. “She wants to win, she wants to play well. Obviously, there’s been a lot of changes in her game and in her personality since she got here as a freshman. She embraces that role of, ‘I have to set an example.’ ”

Though she was 0-for-5 from the floor against UCF, failing to convert a field goal for only the second time in her career, Samuelson said she took some satisfaction out of her performance.

“When games are like that and teams are like that, you can either let them take you out or you can continue to play,” she said. “I think I … helped the team as much as I possibly could.”

In order to accomplish what they’d like to accomplish in the NCAA tournament, the Huskies will need to adapt to different styles of play. For the most part, Auriemma said he’s been pleased with how they’ve responded to various challenges this year.

“You’ve got to play all different kinds (of styles),” Auriemma said, clarifying that he wasn’t necessarily bothered by UCF’s aggressive play. “You’ve got to be able to deal with everything that comes down the pipe. You can’t send people a note that says, ‘When we come to your place, this is how we want you to play.’ They’re going to do what they’re going to do, and then you’ve got to adjust to it.”

TEXAS TWOSTEP: UConn officially announced Tuesday it has agreed to a home-and-home series with Texas. The teams are scheduled to meet during the 2020-21 season in Connecticut, then will square off in the Lone Star State the following year.

The Huskies are 8-0 all-time against Texas, including a 75-71 victory last year in Austin.

dbonjour@ctpost.com; @DougBonjour