COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Katie Lou Samuelson has proven her toughness to the players and coaches with the University of Connecticut women's basketball team many times before Thursday.
Remember when flu-like symptoms hit her a year ago at Colgate and she fainted coming off the court in the final minute? Remember when she played most of the first half with a broken left foot after hurting it in on the first possession of the NCAA Final Four semifinal game against Oregon State?
So when coach Geno Auriemma said his sophomore guard grew up a lot following her 23-point performance that paced the top-ranked Huskies to an 87-81 win over No. 4 Maryland before a sellout crowd of 17,950 at the Xfinity Center, it said a lot.
"Lou was amazing," Auriemma said, expanding on his original comment. "I've not seen her be what she was tonight when there was no alternative. There was no safety net. Last year when she showed that toughness, even if she didn't those other guys (the three senior All-Americans) were there for us. Tonight if she doesn't do it, we lose. That's why I believe she grew up a lot tonight."
Samuelson began feeling ill earlier Thursday and a number of times made her way over to the Huskies' bench for a drink or to wash out her mouth.
She had 12 points in the third quarter as UConn built a 19-point lead, then nailed a clutch trey and another jumper as Maryland made the Huskies sweat in the fourth.
It was an effort that had "All-American" written all over it.
"Everyone knows she is a pretty tough kid," UConn guard Kia Nurse said. "But she went out there and hit shots, did other things for us, and kept her mind off the sickness. It's hard to do. It's a lot harder to do than it looks. But she did it great."
Samuelson played 39 minutes, with her only break coming in the first quarter.
"I didn't think about not playing. I expected to play the whole time," Samuelson said. "It was such a great game and great atmosphere I wasn't going to miss it. When anyone asked, I told them I was good to go. Even if they knew I would say that I was fine and that's all they could go by.
"For myself, I know that I can be mentally tougher than anything physically that's going on. I showed myself that nothing within myself is going to stop me. If my head is right mentally, I can play like I have and play through anything."
The Huntington Beach, California, native did get plenty of help and the Huskies (12-0) needed all of it to push their winning streak to 87, three shy of matching their own NCAA record.
Nurse finished with 19 points and five assists while going the 40-minute distance. Gabby Williams dealt with foul trouble but still managed 16 points, nine rebounds, five assists, and a pair of steals. Napheesa Collier had 12 points before fouling out in the last minute. Saniya Chong returned to the starting lineup and had 10 points along with five assists to no turnovers.
"A lot of things could have gone wrong tonight and people could have lost their heads," Samuelson said. "People kept their composure even with the fouls, turnovers, whatever. Everyone stepped up. We were like, 'It's all right. We're still up. We got this. We're not going to freak out. We're going to get a stop and then we're going to get a score.' "
Freshman Destiny Slocum led Maryland (12-1) with 23 points. Senior Brionna Jones contributed a double-double (19 points, 13 rebounds) while another freshman, Kaila Charles, had 18 points and four steals.
UConn scored the first seven points -- a 3-pointer by Nurse, and two baskets by Williams. Maryland got even at 10, but five points by Chong, a Williams hoop, and a Chong free throw pushed the lead back to eight. It was 20-12 after one quarter.
Maryland started the second half on a 9-2 run and eventually tied it at 27 on a Charles basket but UConn responded with nine unanswered points in a 38-second span -- a four-point play by Nurse, a Williams layup, and a trey by Nurse -- for its biggest lead of the half with 2:50 to go in the half. But the Huskies would not score again in the period, Williams picked up her third foul, and a Nurse turnover in the final seconds led to a Blair Watson layup to make UConn's edge 36-31 at the break.
The decisive run came in the first 2:37 of the third quarter as the Huskies ripped off 14 straight points to go ahead by 19. Nurse started it with a three and baskets by Collier and Williams followed. Samuelson then had her own four-point play and another trey by Nurse finished it off.
The Terrapins, though, didn't go away.
"They are just so aggressive and so athletic and they just come in waves and keep coming at you and coming at you and coming at you," Auriemma said. "You also had the environment, and they were playing the No. 1 team in the country, so everything that happened -- except us getting up 19 -- I expected to happen. I expected it to be that kind of game. Even when we were up 19, all I kept thinking was, 'Man, I have a feeling it's going to be two.' "
Twice, Maryland got within five. It was 81-75 when Chong nailed a 3-pointer from his from in front of the Huskies' bench with 48.0 seconds left.
The timing was similar to when the senior guard hit a trey a year ago to stymie a Maryland comeback at the 2015 Maggie Dixon Classic at Madison Square Garden.
"When she went to shoot it that was exactly what ran through my mind," Auriemma said. "It's like she's supposed to make it. Saniya played well. She needs more playing time."
Maryland got no closer than five as the Terrapins fell to 0-6 against the Huskies. Thursday's game was the second of a three-game deal between the schools that will be completed when Maryland comes to UConn next season.
The sellout crowd was the third overall for the Terrapins at the Xfinity Center and first in nine seasons.
"The environment we had tonight was really special for Maryland and for women's basketball fans," Maryland coach Brenda Frese said. "It was incredible to be able to see. Obviously, we have to give credit where credit is due. On UConn's end, I thought they did a tremendous job."
UConn is 7-0 against ranked opponents on the season and has one non-league game left against South Carolina at Gampel Pavilion on Feb. 13.
The Huskies head to Orlando Friday for their American Athletic Conference opener Sunday against Central Florida (SNY, 1 p.m.).