STORRS, Conn. -- Katie Lou Samuelson and Gabby Williams made it clear following the University of Connecticut women's basketball team's win at Texas Monday that the Huskies need their reserves to step up and lengthen the rotation.
Injuries to the All-American pair Thursday night may leave the bench players no choice. Samuelson re-injured her left ankle in the third quarter of the top-ranked Huskies' 78-60 American Athletic Conference win over Tulsa at Gampel Pavilion. Williams, meanwhile, appeared to aggravate a hip injury in the fourth quarter.
"We have been banged up but that's not an excuse for us at all," UConn All-American Napheesa Collier said. "When a player goes down, you're supposed to respond by playing harder and doing better. We're not doing that."
The players' status for Sunday's game at Temple is unknown, but coach Geno Auriemma didn't like Samuelson's chances. The Huntington Beach, California, native missed four games in November with a left foot sprain. Already playing with a swollen left eye, UConn's leading scorer saw only 15 minutes of action and had just three points before coming out for good 4:40 into the second half. "We'll know more (Friday), but it doesn't look good right now," Auriemma said.
Williams came off with 1:02 to go after blocking a shot by Tulsa's Rebecca Lescay. But instead of running to the Huskies' bench, the Sparks, Nevada, native -- who finished with seven points, five rebounds, five assists to one turnover, and six steals in 25 minutes -- walked off with pain written on her face.
"She's been doing this with a sore hip," Auriemma said. "She tries to do the right thing. The days when she gets frustrated she is not a very good player. I don't think today was one of those days, she was just sore."
Crystal Dangerfield, who has been dealing with shin splints and played 40 minutes against Texas, played only 15 minutes Thursday night.
"We have a bunch of banged-up guys right now," Auriemma said. "What are you going to do? It's part of the game."
After using just six players at Texas, Auriemma said his starters play too many minutes and that he would find a way to rectify that. The candidates he gave an extended look to Thursday night totaled 68 minutes on the floor -- Molly Bent (19), Megan Walker (16), Mikayla Coombs (16), Kyla Irwin (11), and Lexi Gordon (6) -- and finished with one field goal, a Bent layup off a pass from Collier.
Only Coombs, who was on the floor for Azura Stevens' game-closing 8-0 surge, finished in the positive in the plus/minus at plus-5. The others came in at minus-2 for Irwin, minus-3 for Gordon, minus-8 for Walker, and minus-9 for Bent.
"Everyone can tell that we just didn't play the way we were supposed to play," said Stevens, who had 22 points on 9-for-11 shooting. "If we win but we don't play UConn basketball it doesn't really feel like a win. They came out playing the way they needed to play and we didn't play the way we needed to get key stops. We are going to have to take this and move from it."
UConn has been the overall No. 1 seed for the NCAA tournament in the last four seasons. If this season had ended Wednesday, the Huskies would be in a similar position.
The NCAA women's basketball committee provided the first of three regular season top-16 rankings in seed order Thursday with UConn, Mississippi State, Louisville, and Oregon earning No. 1 seeds. The Huskies would head to the Albany (New York) Regional, while Mississippi State would be the top seed in the Kansas City (Missouri) Regional, with Louisville to the Lexington (Kentucky) Regional, and Oregon to the Spokane (Washington) Regional.
UConn (17-0), Mississippi State (19-0), and Louisville (20-0) are the only unbeaten teams left in the country. Oregon (17-2) has lost to Louisville and Mississippi State.
"It's always difficult in mid-January to identify the top teams with conference play getting underway," committee chairperson Rhonda Lundin Bennett said in a statement. "This first ranking serves as a conversation starter as there are numerous games in the next several weeks that will help to further identify where teams should be seeded."
The No. 2 seeds would be Tennessee, Notre Dame, Texas, and national champion South Carolina. The No. 3 seeds would be Baylor, Ohio State, Florida State, and UCLA. The No. 4 seeds would be Missouri, Texas A&M, Rutgers, and Georgia.
The top 16 seeds nationally host first- and second-round games.
The next top-16 reveal will be Feb. 1 during halftime of the UConn-South Carolina game on ESPN. The final reveal will be Feb. 19 during ESPN2's Big Monday/Play4Kay tripleheader that starts at 6 p.m.
Auriemma was not surprised that UConn Class of 2018 signees Christyn Williams (5-foot-11 guard, Little Rock, Arkansas) and Olivia Nelson-Ododa (6-4 post player, Winder, Georgia) were selected Tuesday to take part in the 17th annual McDonald's All-America Girls Game to be held March 28 at Atlanta's Philips Arena.
"I'm happy for them and I'm proud of them," Auriemma said. "We're getting two exceptional people that happen to be exceptionally good basketball players. They deserve it, just like all of our other players over the years who have played in that game. It's a great honor. It's well deserved. And I hope they enjoy the whole experience. And then I hope they forget about it, because when they get here it means absolutely nothing. They can still go eat at McDonalds, but that ain't going to get them diddly." Nelson-Ododa will play for the East team, while Williams will play for the West. Baylor has the most recruits in the game with four, while Tennessee has three.
Current Huskies Williams, Samuelson, Collier, Dangerfield, Megan Walker, and Mikayla Coombs were McDonald's All-Americans as high school seniors.
Auriemma on any positives he took from the game: "It ended kind of early. It didn't go into overtime. God knows we didn't need to watch five more minutes of that. I have to tell you I really don't know if there was one positive that came out of tonight."