UNCASVILLE, Conn. -- Katie Lou Samuelson shared the American Athletic Conference Player of the Year award with Napheesa Collier a year ago.
While her name alone will be on the 2018 trophy, Samuelson was happy to share credit with all of her University of Connecticut women's basketball teammates Saturday morning after becoming the sixth in Huskies' history to win a conference's top individual honor multiple times.
"Even on our team we have a lot of deserving players that could be recognized for this as well," Samuelson said. "None of us would be in the position that we are as a team, as individuals, without each other. We've all had each other's backs and my teammates have supported me through everything.
"I think I've done a lot to change what I do, and I think this year I contributed in a bunch of different ways that I didn't necessarily do last year. I want to make sure that I continue to help out and do anything I can to kind of help this team moving forward. The biggest thing that has been on my mind is winning each and every game the right way, and that has really helped."
Samuelson joins Kerry Bascom (1989-91), Rebecca Lobo (1994-95), Diana Taurasi (2003-04), Maya Moore (2008-09, 2011) from UConn's Big East days and Breanna Stewart (2014-16) in the AAC to be named conference Player of the Year at least twice.
The Huntington Beach, California, native leads the Huskies in scoring at 18.3 points, which is seventh in the league, to go with a career-best 4.3 rebounds. She is in the AAC's top 10 in assists (tie for seventh, career-best 3.8), assist-to-turnover ratio (second, career-best 2.8), field-goal percentage (sixth, career-best 54.4), 3-point percentage (first, career-best 49.0), and free-throw percentage (fourth, 81.9). She passed the 1,500-point plateau for her career in a win over Wichita State on Feb. 10.
On Friday, Samuelson was the only unanimous selection to the seven-player all-AAC first team.
"Every game I've played I've tried to do something different to help the team," Samuelson said. "No matter what, I've tried to contribute in some way.
"The biggest challenge with the ups and downs this year has been to stay mentally focused. I tried to focus each and every day on doing something productive. Last year, maybe things would have bothered me. This year that hasn't happened as much."
Samuelson suffered a mid-left foot sprain in the second game of the season against California and missed the next four contests, including her homecoming game at UCLA.
She aggravated a left ankle injury on Jan. 18 against Tulsa and sat out the Huskies' next game at Temple. In the 11 games since her return, she's averaged 20.0 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 4.7 assists, shooting 57.7 percent from the floor, 50.0 percent from behind the arc, and 92.3 percent from the foul line. Her strong February performances against top-10 opponents South Carolina and Louisville helped put her in the national Player of the Year conversation.
"When you get to be at this stage in your career at Connecticut, you have to take certain responsibilities that you didn't have to deal with as a freshman and sophomore," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "That is where she is right now.
"Taking responsibility upon yourself not only for what happens with you but what happens with your teammates and what happens with your team, you have to evolve and grow into those things. They don't happen by themselves and it takes some work. She's been able to take it upon herself and she understands what her role is on our team. She is a great teammate and she's comfortable in that role. That's the biggest attribute, you have to be comfortable and accept it."
As she accepted the honor at Saturday morning's press conference, Samuelson looked toward her teammates and said "it's an award for all of us." Auriemma agreed.
"When you're in a team sport, you always accomplish things as a team," Auriemma said. "You might get singled out for your individual performances but everything that happens to you in a team sport is a direct reflection on your teammates and how you interact with them. In order to get that award you have to be on a successful team. To be on a successful team, you not have to do your part but appreciate the part everyone else plays. Without you, they wouldn't be as good. Without them, you wouldn't be as good. That's a message we try to hammer home every day."
Top-seeded UConn (29-0) begins its bid for a fifth consecutive AAC tournament championship with a quarterfinal game Sunday at 6:30 p.m. against the winner of Saturday's first-round contest between No. 8 Memphis and ninth-seeded Tulane.
Samuelson was the 2017 tournament's Most Outstanding Player after scoring 40 points on a NCAA record 10-for-10 effort from 3-point land in a rout of South Florida. But even after being the league's Co-Player of the Year and a consensus first-team All-American as a sophomore, she was not a unanimous first-team AAC selection last October in the preseason voting.
"I don't know. I don't know if it was necessarily motivation," Samuelson said. "Each of us had a lot of motivation on our own coming in. This year my mentality has been to go into every game and focus on winning that game. That is what's helped me the most."
Cincinnati's IImar'i Thomas was named the AAC Freshman of the Year. Thomas is averaging 10.2 points on a league-best 60.7 percent shooting from the floor and 6.2 rebounds. She helped the Bearcats to a fourth-place finish in the league and a first-round bye in the tournament. Cincinnati will take on either No. 5 Houston or 12th-seeded Tulsa in quarterfinal action Sunday.
South Florida's Jose Fernandez won his first Coach of the Year award. He guided the Bulls to a 24-6 overall record and a second-place finish in the league at 15-3. USF is ranked No. 20 in the latest Associated Press poll and will face either No. 7 East Carolina or 10th-seeded SMU in Sunday's quarterfinals.
USF junior Kitija Laksa was chosen as the AAC's Scholar-Athlete Award winner. Laksa owns a 3.7-grade point average as a psychology major.