STORRS, Conn. -- Geno Auriemma admits he's been surprised by the breakout year that Gabby Williams has enjoyed with the University of Connecticut women's basketball team.
The Hall of Fame coach returned the favor last week, surprising the junior forward from Sparks, Nevada, by informing her that the Huskies had scheduled a homecoming game for her next season at the University of Nevada in Reno.
"Coach told me and I didn't believe him at first because it just seemed crazy," Williams said. "I never thought that I would have an opportunity to play in Nevada during my career. I'm excited. My sister played there. My dad played there. Their coach is retiring but I know the staff and have friends on the team. It's so cool that all my friends and family from back home will get to see me play."
Nevada, a member of the Mountain West Conference, finished the season 11-19 with a loss to Fresno State. On March 1, coach Jane Albright announced her retirement after 33 seasons overall and the last nine with the Wolf Pack.
Williams is averaging 13.4 points, 8.5 rebounds, 5.3 assists, and 2.8 steals in 33 games for No. 1 UConn, which will go for its 24th consecutive Sweet 16 appearancenight when it hosts eighth-seeded Syracuse in a NCAA tournament Bridgeport Regional second-round game at Gampel Pavilion. She was named to the all-American Athletic Conference first team, its all-tournament team, and was the league's Defensive Player of the Year. She reached the 1,000-point plateau against Temple on Feb. 22, recorded UConn's fifth triple-double in a game versus East Carolina on , and is among 10 players on the final ballot for the Wooden Award as the national Player of the Yearr.
Reno borders Sparks.
"My teammates have heard all of the crazy stories that I have from growing up there," Williams said. "I'm glad they're going to see what it's actually like."
"It's special because it's not an easy trip to make, I know. We're going to be out there for awhile. It will be nice to be back on the west coast."
UConn will be on the west coast for three games as it will also visit UCLA and take on Michigan State in the PK80-Phil Knight Invitational in Eugene, Oregon.
The UCLA game will be a homecoming for sophomore guard Katie Lou Samuelson, who grew up about 45 minutes from Pauley Pavilion in Huntington Beach, California.
"It will be awesome and fun for the people I know to come see me play in person," Samuelson said. "Some in my family haven't seen me play here yet so I'll be excited for that."
The deal with Nevada means UConn's 13-game non-league schedule for 2017-18 is set. Eleven of the 13 teams advanced to the 2017 NCAA tournament -- going 10-1 in the first round -- while a 12th (Duquesne) received a WNIT bid. The Huskies will host California, Louisville, Maryland, and Notre Dame, visit DePaul, Nevada, Ohio State, South Carolina, Texas, and UCLA, and play neutral site games against Duquesne (in Toronto for a homecoming game for junior guard Kia Nurse), Michigan State (at Eugene, Oregon), and Oklahoma (at Mohegan Sun Arena).
Samuelson didn't have the kind of shooting day in UConn's 116-55 win over Albany that she had in the Huskies' previous game when she netted a career high of 40 points in the AAC final against USF. While the league's leading scorer did finish with 15 points, she also contributed a career high nine assists to no turnovers in her 33 minutes.
"We moved the ball really well, we took the right shots, and people were aggressive but we weren't really forcing much," Samuelson said.
Samuelson and freshman Crystal Dangerfield, who had 16 points and six assists, reached the 100-assist plateaugiving UConn five players in triple figures for the third time (2011, 2015) in program history. Williams (174) leads the way followed by Saniya Chong (121), Nurse (114), Samuelson (107), and Dangerfield (103).
"Something we've been doing well all season is finding the open person and getting them the ball in places where they'll be successful," Samuelson said. "Our posts are really good against any kind of defender so we know that we if get them the ball in good positions there's a good chance they'll score."
Auriemma, though, wasn't singing Samuelson's praises. The AAC's Co-Player of the Year and Naismith Trophy finalist missed her first three shots and scored only one of UConn's 37 first-quarter points.
"I thought Lou was horrible in that first half," Auriemma said. "Who doesn't know she can score pretty much when she wants and when she misses four in a row there's a pretty good chance the next eight are going in. She knows it. We know it. Everyone knows it. But that's the problem. She knows she's going to play 30 minutes every night. I can't stand it. I want them to think, 'If I don't play well, Coach is going to bench me.' I can't and it kills me.
"But when she starts doing that other stuff, when she starts playing a little bit of defense, rebounding the ball a little, cutting, getting herself involved ... She went at it a little bit with (Albany's Imani) Tate, talking. That's good. It showed she was more than just stand there and shoot threes. The fact she wasn't making shots in the beginning didn't bother me. What bothered me was the other stuff she wasn't doing. When she starred doing the other things the shots started falling. That's her deal. I hope she understands that."
effort for Samuelson, the league's leading scorer, moved her to 11th in the league in assists (3.2) and seventh in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.9).
UConn is 12-4 in rematches of the previous season's national championship game. The Huskies defeated Syracuse 82-51 in Indianapolis last ... UConn has won 34 straight games against Atlantic Coast Conference opponents dating back to a loss at North Carolina on Jan. 15, 2007 ... Samuelson missed her first try from behind the arc meaning she and Caroline Doty remain tied for the UConn record with 10 consecutive made 3-pointers ... The UConn-Syracuse winner will face either fifth-seeded Texas A&M or No. 4 UCLA in the Sweet 16 at Bridgeport's Webster Bank Arena. The Bruins entertain the Aggies at Pauley Pavilion night.