There are many adages that could describe Katie Lou Samuelson's first collegiate season at Connecticut. Metaphors of perseverance, mental toughness or blood, sweat and tears all would be appropriate. They don't really matter that much to her.
All that matters to Samuelson, affectionately called Lou by those who know her well, is getting the job done.
"I want to do whatever I can to help the seniors win their fourth title," Samuelson said. "To do that, I have to really step up and take some of the weight off their shoulders. They're not going to be able to do it by themselves."
UConn is once again the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament, which tips off Friday. After a regular season in which the Huskies once again dominated, it's hard to see how they could get any better in late March. But Samuelson's elevated play down the stretch could prove frightening for opponents.
She has stepped it up, big time.
During the past seven games, Samuelson, a 6-foot-3 guard/forward, has averaged 16.6 points per game, well-above her season average of 10.8. In that stretch, she has shot just above 60 percent from the field and 54 percent from beyond the 3-point arc.
Scoring metrics aren't everything, especially at UConn, where there are so many who are capable of producing offensively. But for Samuelson's game, scoring is important. Shooting well is her bread and butter. Finding her groove, however, has proven difficult.
"A lot of things she's been going through, I've been through. Coming [to UConn] and being the top high school recruit, I was in that situation." UConn star Breanna Stewart
Poor shooting and defense characterized the beginning of Samuelson's season, but she had her bright spots. She scored 13 points against Notre Dame, making 4-of-7 shots (3-6 from beyond the arc), but followed that up with a poor (2-of-6) shooting performance against Colgate, including 0-for-4 from 3-point range.
A heralded freshman out of Mater Dei High School in California -- the same high school that produced UConn shooting great Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis -- Samuelson was the consensus high school player of the year her senior season, holds every single-season scoring/shooting record at Mater Dei and finished her high school career with 3,733 points.
To say she has been under pressure would be an understatement. But that pressure is from Samuelson's expectations of herself.
"I want to succeed in what I do, because I am a competitive person," she said. "It was really hard for me at the beginning [of the season] when I wasn't really doing what I wanted to do, and didn't feel like I was contributing as much as I could.
"I had to grow up and start from the basics again, and not just go out there and expect to do what I did in high school, because it's a different level. The intensity level is raised 100 times. There is nothing that is similar to high school."
And there have been moments. A play here, a couple of games there, Samuelson would put it together in a short stretch. Each time, it looked as if it would be "the" game that put her on course. First it was the Notre Dame contest. Then, it looked like it could have been the Tulsa game, where Samuelson had a great shooting performance that propelled her into the starting lineup.
But then there was South Carolina. Heading into that game, Samuelson said coach Geno Auriemma wanted her to "either come ready to play, and not act like a freshman, or stay home."
She kind of acted like a freshman.
Samuelson played 22 minutes that night and shot only once (she made it). She was a non-factor. UConn won the game by 12 points at South Carolina. While her performance didn't hurt UConn, Samuelson's competitive nature left her disappointed. She wanted to be better, her drive inspired by playing against two older sisters growing up in California.
Bonnie and Karlie Samuelson, both of whom played at Stanford, are as responsible as anyone for making Lou the player she is.
"When I was younger, I wanted to be just like them, so that's where it all started," Samuelson said. "But once I got older, all I wanted to do was to be better than them."
While playing with her sisters toughened her up, playing at UConn, she said, has been as tough a mental challenge as anything she's ever faced.
"To play here takes so much out of yourself and you have to figure out how to deal with that," Samuelson said. "My teammates have been a huge help with that, teaching me how to deal with the negativity, not worry about it, and focus on the positivity. We focus on playing for each other."
Breanna Stewart, in particular, has made a positive impact. The senior knows what it's like being in Samuelson's shoes. She came to UConn amid high expectations after a decorated high school career and it took her a while to find her footing.
"A lot of things she's been going through, I've been through," Stewart said. "Coming [to UConn,] and being the top high school recruit, I was in that situation. The advice I try to give her is that what you did in high school, you have to do at a whole other level in college. Once you find it, you'll understand it, but you have to work harder, go harder. It's more mental than physical."
Stewart has been an invaluable resource in helping Samuelson through her first season, and part of the reason she has been so successful heading into the tournament.
"Stewie has been really helpful for me in trying to get me through the funk I was in in the beginning," Samuelson said. "She told me how she went through similar things her freshman year, so she told me what she did and what helped with her. She has been such a big help in getting me to where I am right now."