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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Compelling family affair stories headlining Final Four

Wins by Stanford and UConn tonight will make for the family reunions to end all family reunions with the Samuelson sisters squaring off in Sunday's national title game.

Since I've had access to the younger of the Samuelsons just a few times in the last six months, I spent a little more time with Karlie Samuelson yesterday to get her take on the potential showdown with her sister Katie Lou.

It's a remarkable story and one that ESPN has certainly gotten plenty of mileage out of. Naturally, Karlie Samuelson was far and away the most popular of the Stanford players during the media access session on Thursday.

"It is pretty cool to be able to go to the Final Four with both of my sisters," said Karlie, who played with older sister Bonnie in the 2014 Final Four. "Before the tournament started, I said it would be crazy for us if we met in the NCAA tournament. We haven't talked about it much since the tournament."

Karlie calls or texts her younger sister rather regularly and often times has critiques of the game she just played.

"I like to see her do well," Karlie said. "I like to tell her different things that people aren't talking about. I just like to talk to her a lot."

There is another family story that has flown a little more under the radar and that is the tale of Mississippi State point guard Morgan William.

William dropped 41 points on Baylor to go with seven assists and no turnovers in the regional final to set up a Final Four showdown with UConn tonight. After the game she was rather emotional as she spoke about the game falling three years and a day after the unexpected passing of her beloved stepfather.

"I felt like the emotion was driving me because the day before was when he passed, I was still in the middle of it and it as my motivation," William said. "I just played for him and that was all him. It just all hit me, I did not plan that. They started asking questions and it just came out.

"If I didn't have him in my life, I don't know if I would have been this successful or I will still be playing basketball. I remember when he passed, I wanted to quit, I didn't have the motivation but my mom and my high school coach said he would have wanted you to play so keep playing.

"I am glad I kept playing, he would be proud of me and mad that I quit. I am not a quitter but during the tough times, I couldn't go in the gym for a month. I'd go in the gym, try to dribble and I couldn't do it, I just started crying. It was in March so I wasn't going to school, I knew I had to go into the gym, I was going into college and I wanted to be develop."

William's roommate is fellow junior guard Blair Schaefer, who happens to be the daughter of Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer so the bond between the head coach and star point guard is even stronger than your typical player/coach relationship.

"Morgan is like my sister," Blair Schaefer said. "We are roommates and we hang out all the time, we would do anything for other, I feel like when we started rooming together, we were closer and my parents have us over for dinner all the time. Having her come over is a normal thing, go home and do homework. Every since she lost her dad, he has always been there for her in case she needs anything. She has the special bond with my dad to where if she ever needs to talk basketball with anybody, she can talk with him, she can tell him, 'Coach this hurts my feelings when this happens' or 'I get bothered when this happens' but he is good as listening and he understands that as a dad and as a coach at the same time."

Obviously Blair Schaefer was aware of the magnitude of the anniversary of the death of Donnie Rory, who died unexpectedly of a heart attack at age 44. With the emotion still driving her, William put together as good of a stat line as you will ever see in the NCAA tournament.

"It was a special moment, you need to cherish that moment because he is in heaven looking down on her and proud of her," Blair Schaefer said. "He used to work her out, be her coach and trainer and he is the reason why she is where she is today. 'I know you wish he was here to see you play but he is watching you from heaven and he is so proud of you.' It is great that she is playing so well and playing so well for him."

During the Baylor game, Schaefer and her teammates kept feeding the ball to William.

"She had this look in her eyes like nobody was going to stop her," Schaefer said. "She was hot, we were running plays (normally reserved) for our shooting guards because she was making everything. We told her, 'they are not adjusting and not guarding it so we are going to keep running it.' I just feel like she was truly a great point guard that day, she was not going to let her team lose and she had that mindset.  I feel like when she has that mindset and she has attitude, we have a full team with that attitude behind her."

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