STORRS, Conn. - No. 2 UConn overcame an early double-digit deficit and an injury to an All-American in rolling to another American Athletic Conference win.
Napheesa Collier celebrated senior day by scoring 29 points and grabbing nine rebounds to lead the Huskies over Houston 83-61 on Saturday.
Fellow senior Katie Lou Samuelson scored 11 points for UConn (27-2, 15-0 American) before injuring her back in a collision while diving for a loose ball in the second quarter. She returned to start the second half but struggled with muscle spasms and was pulled after the first minute.
Jasmyne Harris, Octavia Barnes and Dorian Branch each had 14 points for Houston (15-13, 9-6), which opened a 17-7 lead and led by a point after the first quarter.
“They came out shooting and they were making a lot of shots,” Collier said. “Emotions were definitely heightened, but we have to be able to kind of block out the outside things and be able to focus in on what we are supposed to do.”
UConn trailed 25-22 early in the second quarter. But with Kobe Bryant watching from behind the UConn bench, Collier and Samuelson led the Huskies on a 13-2 run to grab control. The spurt ended after Samuelson was injured and had to be assisted off the court, holding her lower back.
“I don't know what part of the other person's body hit me, but I just got hit in a spot that made everything tense up, so I was just super stiff after that,” Samuelson said.
UConn coach Geno Auriemma said the training staff will determine Sunday if Samuelson will be able to make the Huskies’ final road trip of the regular season to South Florida for a game Monday night.
With Samuelson out, UConn turned to junior guard Crystal Dangerfield to help Collier with the scoring. She finished with 19 points and eight assists. The Huskies led by 10 points at halftime and stretched that to 62-45 after three quarters.
“It's good that we have to earn wins, that's good for us,” said Auriemma. “It's way better than rolling in and the game's over at halftime. It's good for us.”
Megan Walker finished with 10 points and nine rebounds for the Huskies, who have never lost an American Athletic Conference game and received their sixth regular-season AAC championship trophy after the game.
Houston: The Cougars earned the final first-round bye in the conference tournament because of a loss by South Florida at Cincinnati.
“We play again on Monday so you can imagine after playing a game today, then traveling back, what the legs will feel like tomorrow and then you gotta turn around on Monday and play again so the bye in the tournament will be really, really worth it,” said Houston coach Ronald Hughey.
UConn: The Huskies retired Rebecca Lobo's No. 50 at halftime. The Huskies’ first real star, she led the team to an undefeated season and the first of 11 national titles in 1995. She is the first UConn player to receive the honor, which is reserved for those inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
“The entire country knew who Rebecca Lobo was,” Auriemma said. “The entire country, through her, knew who UConn women's basketball was.”
Collier's 29 points give her 2,198 for her career, moving her into fifth place on the career list at UConn behind Samuelson's 2,259.
Samuelson and Collier have scored a combined 4,457 points, the most of any classmates in the history of the program, well ahead of Breanna Stewart and Moriah Jefferson, who finished with a combined 4,208 points.
MAMBA IN THE HOUSE
Bryant brought his 12-year-old daughter Gannai, a UConn fan, to the game. The former Lakers star also was in the stands when UConn played at UCLA last season and attended the team's loss to Notre Dame in the Final Four. He also broke down some UConn tape for Samuelson, when she was back home in California last summer, giving her pointers on where she could improve her game.
“He's gotten to know these guys through a lot of different things,” Auriemma said. “He was looking forward to coming up here and making it a daddy-daughter kind of trip, just the two of them. That's why we didn't make such a big deal about it. But, obviously, that was a big deal in a lot of ways.”
Houston: The Cougars finish up the regular season Monday night by hosting UCF, which also has clinched a first-round bye.
UConn: UConn travels to South Florida on Monday.