Katie Lou Samuelson made her first and only shot, a layup, when the University of Connecticut women's basketball team beat South Carolina at Colonial Life Arena her freshman year.
While she was nervous as can be, she looked at seniors Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson, and Morgan Tuck for confidence and comfort. And when the top-ranked Huskies returned to Columbia Thursday night, the junior All-American wanted her teammates to look at her in that way.
"The thing I remember from two years ago was that it was the biggest crowd I had played in front of," Samuelson said. "Then the one thing that I contributed was tipping a pass on an inbounds play. I wanted to make sure to do a little bit more this time. Looking back at that game, what our older guys did that night motivated me for this game. I wanted to do for our younger players what the older guys did for me when I was a freshman."
Samuelson and the other veterans of the 2016 game -- seniors Kia Nurse and All-American Gabby Williams, and junior All-American Napheesa Collier -- showed how they have grown and helped their current team grow up a bit as well. They were the Fearless Foursome Thursday night as UConn routed reigning national champion and No. 7 South Carolina 83-58 in front of a subdued sellout crowd of 18,000.
The Huskies will look to ride that momentum into Sunday as they entertain Cincinnati in an American Athletic Conference game at the XL Center in Hartford (SNY, 1 p.m.).
"We're trying to come out in every game we play in such a way that if you really know a lot about basketball you're going to say, 'Wow, that's amazing,' " UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "But if you know a little bit about basketball you're still going to appreciate what these kids are doing.
"Our players thrive in this environment. This is why they come to Connecticut. I don't think anyone came into this game thinking that in the second quarter we're going to score 29 and they'll get eight. But that's what happens. You get on a roll. Our kids are pretty good at making plays. They've grown up a lot. I wasn't sure that we had this in us. We've grown up a lot and matured a little bit since a month ago."
Nurse (23), Samuelson (20), Collier (19), and Williams (14) combined for 76 points with Williams adding 14 rebounds and five assists for a double-double.
UConn (21-0) took a double-digit lead just 4:50 into the game and led by at least 20 for the final 24:50. It was 53-24 at halftime and the biggest lead was 34.
With the Huskies beating AAC opponents by an average of 47.8 points, they must use their non-league games as a measuring stick. They were much different than the team that had to hold off Texas for a 75-71 win in Austin on Jan. 15.
"We have made great strides," Auriemma said. "If we were talking a month ago, I would have told that it would have been hard for us to win this game (Thursday night).
"If you watch that Texas game on film, you wouldn't think that there was anything good about that game except that we toughed it out and won that game. I don't think we did anything that you would say a good team is supposed to do. We just won the game, which says a lot. We talked about that and said, 'Let's see how much progress we made from the Texas game. If we're the same as we were when we played Texas, you know what? We're in trouble.' We're a lot further ahead now than we were against Texas."
UConn's offensive execution was exquisite throughout, though it ended up shooting 41.1 percent from the floor. The Huskies missed shots they usually make, it had nothing to with the Gamecocks' defense.
"Maybe we should work on things without defense for awhile," Samuelson said. "There was a difference between the first half and second half the way we shot it. We executed when we needed to and we knocked in shots when we needed to. But we always got the shots that we wanted."
And UConn forced South Carolina (18-4) to take the shots it wanted the Gamecocks to take. South Carolina made 32.3 percent of its shots, but throw out freshman Bianca Jackson's 8-for-11 -- she scored 16 of her 20 points long after the game was decided -- the Gamecocks would be at 24.1 percent.
South Carolina senior All-American A'ja Wilson did have 14 points and 16 rebounds but was just 4-for-18 from the floor and looked nothing like a player that's favored to be the No. 1 pick in the 2018 WNBA Draft. Like in last year's matchup at Gampel Pavilion, Williams -- the reigning national Defensive Player of the Year -- had plenty to do with it.
"Gabby set the tone pretty early," Auriemma said. "Yeah, we're undersized. But we are going to battle, we are going to fight, and we are going to push the ball and do what we normally do. That is what we did. We had a feeling going in that there were things we did they were going to struggle with."
Things proved to be just about everything.
UConn has league games with Cincinnati Sunday, Central Florida in Orlando Wednesday, and Wichita State at the XL Center next Saturday before its final non-league test against No. 4 Louisville at Gampel Pavilion Feb. 12.
The Huskies (9-0) are in command of the AAC race with a two-game lead in the loss column on South Florida and UCF with seven to go. Cincinnati (13-9, 5-4) was in the battle for second with a four-game conference winning streak but then suffered a discouraging overtime loss at home to lowly East Carolina then scored 12 points in the first half of a home loss to UCF. The Bearcats, coached by former UConn player and assistant coach Jamelle Elliott, are led by four-year starting guard Ana Owens.
No one is expecting it to be close Sunday, but it is another chance for UConn to grow.
"We'll take the things we did well Thursday night and build on them," Nurse said. "The things we didn't do well, we'll go back to practice and work to get better and be ready to play Cincinnati."