Collier, Samuelson fierce competitors in silly-walk contests
STORRS, Conn. (AP) — UConn’s Katie Lou Samuelson and Napheesa Collier consider themselves kindred, if somewhat quirky spirits.
The Huskies two All-Americans have known each other since meeting at a USA basketball camp when they were sophomores in high school and have been inseparable since arriving in Storrs more than four years ago.
This weekend, if Samuelson can return from back spasms that kept her out of the regular-season finale, the pair will try to lead UConn to a sixth consecutive American Athletic Conference tournament title.
But the season’s goal, as it is every year at UConn, is bigger than that. The pair won an NCAA title as freshmen, but have lost in each of the last two national semifinals.
“We definitely feel we have some unfinished business,” Collier said.
The seniors have a 138-4 record on the court and have evolved into the Huskies’ unquestioned leaders. During a blowout win over Memphis last month, coach Geno Auriemma even let Samuelson take over his job for a while. She ran the huddle during a fourth-quarter timeout, diagraming a play for the reserves, which they successfully executed.
But off the court, they are, in their words, a bit goofy — making up silly walks, telling corny jokes or butchering dance routines they taught themselves by watching YouTube videos in their dorm room.
“As freshmen, the amount of time we spent together in the dorms, by ourselves, we realized how similar we were and how goofy we both are,” said Samuelson.
“Our senses of humor are both kind of weird and we only really laugh at each other’s jokes,” added Collier.
“Yeah, that’s it,” Samuelson joked. “Nobody really likes us, just us.”
That chemistry, teammates say, is a major reason the pair has become the top scoring classmates in the history of UConn women’s basketball. Samuelson ranks fourth on the school’s all-time scoring list with 2,259 points. Collier is just behind her with 2,214.
Their combined 4,473 points, is the most of any classmates in the history of the program, ahead of Breanna Stewart and Moriah Jefferson, who finished with 4,208 points.
“On the court, I’d definitely say they would be a two-headed monster,” said junior guard Crystal Dangerfield. “They definitely complement each other and they both have been a great shoulder to lean on.”
Auriemma has had many teams that included multiple great players. But, he said, there is usually just one who is the unquestioned alpha— a Diana Taurasi, Maya Moore or Breanna Stewart.
“Sometimes that’s exactly what you need,” he said. “Sometimes you need that guy. But I think the fact that there is two, those two can take a little bit of pressure off each other. And they know they can count on each other all the time. I think that goes a long way.”
Samuelson, who is averaging 18.9 points this season, is the outside shooter, making 37 percent from behind the arc. Collier, who averages 20.2 points and 10 .2 rebounds, is more of an inside threat. She has 17 double-doubles this season and 42 in her career.
But both say they have been learning from each other. Samuelson has put up six of her seven career double-doubles this season.
“I try to mimic her and bring in parts of her game that are not what I usually go to,” said Samuelson.
“And I’ve tried to copy her mentality and confidence that every time she shoots she thinks it’s going in,” said Collier. “That’s something I used to struggle with.”
Collier is the favorite to win conference player of the year, an award they shared as sophomores and Samuelson took last season. Both are also on multiple national player of the year lists.
“Obviously, I would want that for myself, but it’s not like, ‘Oh, I’m jealous, I wish I would have got that instead of Lou,'” said Collier. “We want to be there together. We both want each other to succeed and when the other person does, we’re happy for them. We only get competitive when we play board games or something.”