UConn's Collier, Samuelson share AAC Player of Year honor
Samuelson missed the 2016 national championship game after breaking a bone in her left foot while Collier fought her way through a painful hip injury as a freshman before undergoing surgery on her labrum.
Yet, there they were the two top scorers in the AAC sharing the conference's most prestigious individual award. It's been quite the journey and one that has been painful and challenging to say the least.
"It always sucks being out especially for such a long period of it so we had to go back and hit it (during rehab)," Collier said.
It was during the time when they couldn't step onto the basketball court when they two teammates, roommates and close friends began to show the resolve that helped turn them into national player of the year candidates as sophomores.
"We both have been on similar paths," Samuelson said. "We were both freshmen with our ups and downs last year, both had the injuries that we had to get back from and we had to step into brand new roles this year so (it was helpful) just to be able to have that next to you to be able to grow with, motivate you every single day. If I feel like I am struggling and there are days when Pheesa has bad days, it is not like you are going through this alone. We have a lot of similarities, maybe not in style of play but in how we approach certain things."
In the eyes of Geno Auriemma, having both of them get the award seemed fitting.
"I don't know how you could be able to signal anybody out, it would be very difficult to do that,
absolutely," Auriemma said. "You could look at our team and how do you identify one person and say even last year that as good as Moriah was and as much of an impact as Tuck had, everybody knew that there was no comparison (to Breanna Stewart). This year it was not the case at all. You take Gabby away from our team and see how many games we win? Look at Kia, our first game without Kia and we almost lose so you could make a case of everybody on our team has a much greater value than they ever had at any time before. This was probably a perfect (solution)."
Dating back to the 1997-98 season they are among seven UConn players with at least 14 20-point games in a season as Collier scored 20 points on 16 occasions and Samuelson had 14 such games. Samuelson leads in 25-point games by an 8-6 count while both of them had two 30-point outbursts.
The only players during that time with more 25-point games in a season than the eight Samuelson has happen to be Maya Moore, Stewart and Nykesha Sales - pretty impressive company.
"Samuelson leads them in scoring, Collier just does so much on both ends of the floor," USF coach Jose Fernandez said. "Collier just plays so hard, she runs the floor, she can step out and shoot it, she defends. I think she has great hands, he catches everything I think they share it so well, they don't really care who scores."
There was also a tie in the Coach of the Year voting as UConn's Geno Auriemma earned the honor for the 14th time. In an interesting twist, he shared the award with Temple head coach Tonya Cardoza, his former assistant coach.
"I was timing it (Cardoza's acceptance speech) and that was more words than she said in 14 years at Connecticut," Auriemma said. "She didn't speak, she (said) very very few words, her game spoke for itself. It took her a while to feel comfortable so she went from that to somebody who could look you right in the eye in practice. Tonya operates like she loves her players, I remember those days."
Auriemma also made a crack about how much more enthusiastic her players were when she was announced as the winner as opposed to the Huskies so the team (other than Samuelson, who was finishing up a TV interview) they greeted him with a rousing ovation as they chanted "Luigi, Luigi. Luigi."
Two other awards were handed out today - Tulane's Leslie Vorpahl was named the Scholar-Athlete of the Year and USF's Tamara Henshaw won the Freshman of the Year award.
Here's the list of UConn players to earn conference player of year honors:
Kerry Bascom 88-89, 89-90, 90-91
Rebecca Lobo 93-94, 94-95
Jen Rizzotti 95-96
Kara Wolters 96-97
Nykesha Sales 97-98
Svetlana Abrosimova 98-99
Shea Ralph 99-00
Sue Bird 01-02
Diana Taurasi 02-03, 03-04
Maya Moore 07-08, 08-09, 10-11
Tina Charles 09-10
Breanna Stewart 13-14, 14-15, 15-16
Napheesa Collier 16-17
Katie Lou Samuelson 16-17
Now here's the list of top players in terms of 20-point games and 25-point games since the 1997-98 season
Maya Moore (2010-11) 27
Breanna Stewart (2013-14) 21
Breanna Stewart (2015-16) 20
Nykesha Sales (1997-98) 19
Maya Moore (2009-10) 18
Napheesa Collier (2016-17) 16
Maya Moore (2008-09) 16
Tina Charles (2009-10) 15
Maya Moore (2007-08) 14
Katie Lou Samuelson (2016-17) 14
Breanna Stewart (2014-15) 14
Diana Taurasi (2002-03) 14
Maya Moore (2010-11) 16
Nykesha Sales (1997-98) 10
Katie Lou Samuelson (2016-17) 8
Breanna Stewart (2014-15) 8
Maya Moore (2007-08) 7
Diana Taurasi (2002-03) 7
Tina Charles (2009-10) 6
Napheesa Collier (2016-17) 6
Breanna Stewart (2013-14) 6