PHILADELPHIA -- The last time Katie Lou Samuelson played against an American Athletic Conference opponent, she had a performance for the ages. The University of Connecticut women's basketball team's guard scored 40 points on a NCAA-record 10-for-10 effort from 3-point land in the Huskies' win over South Florida in the AAC tournament final at Mohegan Sun Arena.
At least one coach in the league was not impressed.
After being named a unanimous first-team all-league pick and the AAC's Co-Player of the Year, the AAC tournament's Most Outstanding Player and a consensus first-team All-American last March, Samuelson was named to the 2017-18 preseason first team by league coaches at media day at the Philadelphia Airport Marriott Monday. But unlike teammates and fellow All-Americans Gabby Williams and Napheesa Collier, the Huntington Beach, California, native was not a unanimous choice.
"I don't know why. I don't know," Collier, who shared Co-Player of the Year honors with Samuelson last season and was named the preseason Player of the Year on Monday, said with a shake of the head. "I was really surprised by that, too."
The coaches' individual ballots are not made public.
Samuelson is coming off one of the best sophomore seasons in UConn history. She averaged 20.2 points on 48.6 percent shooting from the floor (while reaching the 1,000-point plateau for her career), 3.9 rebounds and 3.2 assists in 37 games. She ranked second in the league in scoring, 11th in assists and seventh in assist-to-turnover ratio. She and teammate Kia Nurse were the only players to rank in the top 10 in the league in field-goal percentage, free-throw percentage and 3-point shooting percentage. Last month, she was the youngest player and one of five collegians to take part in a United States senior national team camp in California.
Who knew she got worse in the last seven months?
"I got a little better, actually," Samuelson said with a smile after noting she's been spending quality time on the practice court with coach Geno Auriemma and assistant Shea Ralph. "I'm working on trying to play through anything and finding different ways to get open so people can't take me out of the game. I've been finishing a lot better and attacking the basket a lot harder."
Expanding her game a year ago was what helped her earn All-America status and that continues to be a work in the progress as the Huskies work toward their season opener Nov. 12 against Stanford at the Countdown to Columbus at Nationwide Arena.
Joining the UConn trio on the first team were Central Florida senior guard Aliyah Gregory and South Florida junior guard Kitija Laksa. Nurse was on the second team, along with Temple senior guard Alliya Butts (who will miss the season with a knee injury), SMU senior forward Alicia Froling, USF senior forward Maria Jespersen and Tulane senior guard Kolby Morgan.
Auriemma expressed his disappointment with the balloting when it came to Samuelson, discussing it with AAC associate commissioner for women's basketball Barb Jacobs at one point Monday. But that wasn't the only result that caught his eye.
"Tulane's going to be really good," Auriemma said. "It's another no confidence that I have in our coaches that they didn't vote Kolby Morgan first team in our league."
Samuelson will let her game speak for itself. She is already motivated by the Huskies' loss to Mississippi State in last season's NCAA Final Four that ended UConn's 111-game winning streak and its four-year reign as national champion.
Monday's results have added a little fuel to her fire.
"I would say so," Samuelson said. "But the biggest thing for me, especially for me, is that I'm concerned about winning. With the way that last season ended for us, we want to win and get the job done. I'll do whatever I have to do every single game to help us accomplish that. I'm going to go out there and play to the best of my ability. If that means I'm still not unanimous first team, that's OK. As long as I'm playing my best and I'm helping us win games, that's enough for me."
The Huskies concluded their media day obligations early so they and the UConn men's contingent could catch a 1:30 p.m. flight back to Bradley International Airport. Just to make a long day longer, though, the flight was cancelled and they ended up taking a train from Philadelphia to New Haven and a bus back to campus.
It was their first day off from practice since workouts started on Thursday.
"The first week has been really good," Williams said. "The energy has been up and there's been a new level of focus. It's cool to see we've been getting better every day."
UConn does return four starters but has six players who haven't played a game in a Huskies' uniform: transfers Azura Stevens and Batouly Camara, and freshmen Mikayla Coombs, Lexi Gordon, Andra Espinoza-Hunter and Megan Walker.
"There's a lot of people, and that's a huge difference," Samuelson said. "It's been hard to get everyone on that same page and it's going to take awhile to figure things out. But there are four of us that have played together the last two years and we know each other's ins and outs. Crystal Dangerfield has stepped up and shown she's there with us. And Z has that talent. It will take a little more time to where we feel all comfortable with each other on the court. But we have enough people to lead and take over and show the younger guys what needs to get done and get accomplished."
The Huskies did have 10 days of practice and a 10-day tour of Italy that included four exhibition games in August that did give them a head start. But when last Thursday rolled around?
"Believe it or not the first day of practice was exactly the same as it's always been," Auriemma said. "It was as if the trip to Italy never happened. But what is different is that the freshmen are a little different. The reason they look different is that they realize, 'Man, we went to Europe where the games don't mean anything and Coach said you guys ain't playing because you guys are horrible at practice and your work ethic is horrible. If he's not going to play us in games that are meaningless, what's going to happen when the games mean something?' So they could see the way we operate is different than it was in August. So the trip was good for them."
UConn's exhibition opener is Nov. 1 against Fort Hays State at the XL Center in Hartford.
Wichita State hired Keitha Adams as its women's basketball coach on March 29. Just over a week later, the Shockers announced they would leave the Missouri Valley Conference for the AAC.
"We have a lot of respect for this conference with great coaches and great players," Adams said. "We want to play at a high level and play a brand of basketball that we can all be proud of.
"I bought a house, sold a house, and been learning how things work at Wichita State. Every day I'm eager to get on the court to get to know my players better and figure out our stregths and weaknesses. There's a lot of teaching going on as we implement our system. The players have been working hard and I'm enjoying practice. They really get after it."
Wichita State, which was picked for 10th in the AAC preseason coaches poll, was 15-16 a year ago in a tumultuous season that saw coach Jody Adams-Birch ousted in late January and replaced by Linda Hargrove. The Shockers made three straight NCAA tournament appearances under Adams-Birch from 2013 to 2015 as MVC tournament champion.
Adams spent the last 16 seasons at Texas-El Paso, leading the Miners to two NCAA tournament berths and two WNIT bids.
"We like to play uptempo and we know we need to be a good defensive and good rebounding team," Adams said. "I'm challenging our players to be great teammates and play team ball."
Wichita State has eight seniors, including MVC first-team pick Rangie Bessard, who averaged 17.3 points and 7.6 rebounds a season ago.
UConn will play the Shockers for the first time on Feb. 10 at the XL Center, with the Huskies going to Wichita in the 2018-19 season.
Playing the likes of UConn, South Florida and Temple to should only help the Shockers.
"For our fans I think everyone is excited about this opportunity," Adams said. "I have so much admiration and respect for their program and the job that Geno has done. It will be a big challenge.
"This is one of the top conferences in the country and if you want to play against the best, this conference has it. If you want to play at a high level, this is it. Wichita is a basketball city and our fans are passionate. It's a place where they love basketball."