TAMPA BAY, Fla. — Another chapter in the Connecticut-Notre Dame rivalry came to a close on Friday night when Notre Dame defeated its longtime rival 81-76. It was a tightly contested Final Four semifinal game that saw 26 lead changes. Players from both teams left their hearts out on the floor, especially the Husky seniors.
Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson propelled the Huskies to a 35-3 season and a Final Four appearance. Collier scored 15 points, corralled 13 rebounds and blocked four shots in her final game for UConn. Her best friend and teammate, Samuelson, had 20 points, with 15 coming in the third quarter. She also had six assists in the game.
Collier was a Husky for four seasons, advancing to at least the semifinal game each year, but she knows it wasn’t easy. “It’s hard to get here, people think that it’s expected so we aren’t taking it for granted,” says Collier. “We’re really proud of the fact that we got here. We wanted to win, obviously, but it’s nice to take a step back and take pride in what we were able to accomplish this season.”
This senior duo brought great success to the program over their four seasons, becoming the highest scoring pair of classmates in the history of Connecticut women’s basketball. They won a national title their freshmen season and advanced to the Final Four the following three seasons. Collier and Samuelson never lost a game in the American Athletic Conference nor at home in the Gampel Pavilion and XL Center. They lost just five games total in their collegiate careers, with three of those losses coming in the Final Four.
“It’s been a great four years here for us,” Samuelson said. “We have been through a lot, done a lot of things. We really tried our best to kind of make it happen, left it all on the line, and came up short. This has been the best four years of my life and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Forward Olivia Nelson–Ododa was greatly impacted by her senior teammates, “We all know they are amazing basketball players,” the freshman said. “Their presence will be missed. They were great leaders, great people, on and off the court. The way they carry themselves, wherever they go, it’s incredible. They were a great example, not only for me, but for future players coming to this program… they will definitely be missed.”
UConn head coach Geno Auriemma had nothing but praise for his seniors after their final game. “It's not apparent sometimes while you're teammates with Lou and Napheesa, it's not apparent until after they're gone, how much they did for you, how much they contributed to your success, how much you're going to miss their presence every single day, on the court, off the court, doesn't matter,” said Auriemma. “Those two, they bore the burden of that every single day, every single game. I can't be more proud of kids than I am those two.”
Collier doesn’t see this as the end of her time as a Husky, “The relationships and the bond that you have with this place last forever. I am just grateful… for everyone who has been a part of this program. It has been amazing.”
Even though Collier and Samuelson’s collegiate careers are now over, they will not be forgotten in Storrs. The best friends leave behind a legacy of winning on and off the court for UConn. Their impact is sure to measure far beyond the confines of their four seasons as Huskies.