Katie Lou Samuelson sparks UConn past Maryland to 87th straight win

— -- COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- UConn's Katie Lou Samuelson recalls a thrilling game six years ago that ended the longest streak in Division I basketball history. It was Dec. 30, 2010, at Stanford. UConn had won 90 games in a row, but the Cardinal beat the Huskies 71-59.

Katie Lou's oldest sister, Bonnie, was a high school senior then who had committed to play for Stanford. As would middle sister Karlie, who is now a senior for the Cardinal.

"It was pretty exciting," Katie Lou said. "I remember watching it, and that was before I had really been recruited by anyone. I wasn't even thinking about where I was going to college."

Understandable, as she was then in eighth grade in Huntington Beach, California. Stanford would have loved to get the third Samuelson sister, but she opted to go cross-country to Connecticut. And Thursday, on a night when the latest amazing UConn winning streak might have ended, Katie Lou was there to make sure that didn't happen.

The No. 1 Huskies were pushed by fourth-ranked Maryland, but won 87-81 to run their streak to 87 in a row. They are now four away from topping their program's own mark. And considering they've never lost a game in the American Athletic Conference, the record seems all but broken.

This doesn't mean much of anything to UConn coach Geno Auriemma right now, and his disinterest really is genuine. He built his program focusing on sweating the details and getting better daily, and that isn't going to change regardless of the outsiders' narrative of streak-streak-streak.

He continues to insist that UConn will indeed lose this season, and said that he could show doubters game film and point out all the ways the Huskies need to get better. No question, this sophomore-and-junior-led team can improve. But that just makes it seem more unlikely a loss is going to happen.

Auriemma points out that his current players have to help each other a lot because they are not as spectacular individually or collectively as some past UConn powerhouse teams -- but the bottom line is, they're still pretty awesome. And Samuelson -- known simply as "Lou" by the staff and her teammates -- led the way Thursday. She had 23 points to lead five Huskies scoring in double figures.

This despite the fact that she wasn't feeling well before the game. She was sick enough, in fact, that Auriemma wasn't even sure she would play. Samuelson, however, said she never had any doubt.

"Once you start, adrenaline gets you through anything that's going on," she said, and that included vomiting during the contest. "There were moments I was a little tired. But our team was doing really great stuff, so that got me excited and hyped up.

"This is a great game and a great atmosphere. I knew no matter what was happening, I was going to play today. It was really important to me to prove to myself that things aren't going to hold me back this year."

Maryland trailed by just five points at halftime, but was down by 19 early in the third quarter after 14-0 UConn surge. And it seemed like that could have been it -- the Terps' flame extinguished by one of those Huskies' runs that we've seen so many times the past 20-plus years as UConn has won 11 NCAA titles.

But as they did last season when these teams met at Madison Square Garden, the Terps still had a big rally in them. Their fourth-quarter theatrics trimmed the deficit to five points three different times, and kept most of the sellout crowd of 17,950 in their seats until the end.

"The environment we had tonight was really special," Maryland coach Brenda Frese said. "I thought [UConn] did a tremendous job putting that dagger in. Whether it be an open 3[-pointer], an offensive put-back, making you pay for breakdowns."

The Huskies did all that, and still stand undefeated. No matter that Samuelson was ill, or that UConn was outrebounded 40-31, or that Maryland got terrific performances from fearless-looking freshmen Destiny Slocum (23 points, seven assists) and Kaila Charles (18 points).

The Huskies found a way. Even Auriemma, who expects it and demands it, can be surprised by it: How the names change, but the ability to make plays doesn't. It's coaching, the way the Huskies practice, and all the "strive for perfection" stuff the players learn generation after generation at UConn.

Kia Nurse had 19 points. Stat-stuffer Gabby Williams had 16 points, nine rebounds and five assists. Napheesa Collier and Saniya Chong scored 12 and 10, respectively.

And that eighth-grader who watched the Huskies' last mega-streak end -- who was no doubt cheering for that to happen as Stanford was soon to be her big sister's team -- is now the college sophomore who played an enormous role in keeping the Huskies on track for No. 91 (and beyond).

Maryland was the last big obstacle before that. Central Florida, East Carolina, South Florida and SMU are still in the way, but it seems unlikely UConn will be seriously challenged again until the Huskies' only other nonconference game: Feb. 13 against No. 6 South Carolina.

"Overall, I think we've kind of shown something to ourselves -- that we can be a great team," Samuelson said. "It just gives us that much more confidence, but we know we have a lot more we want to accomplish, so we can't get caught up in what we've done."

The Huskies never do dwell on what they've already done. They just keep doing more.