STORRS - The Senior Day sellout crowd of 10,167 at Gampel Pavilion Saturday stood as one as Napheesa Collier made her way to the UConn women’s basketball team’s bench for the final time with 43.4 seconds left and victory secured.
The Huskies’ senior did what she’s done for four years here, slap hands with her teammates before taking her seat. But if she had taken a moment to look like behind the bench, she would have noticed NBA legend Kobe Bryant was out of his seat saluting her.
“I did not see him but I know who you’re talking about,” Collier said. “It’s amazing. He’s the best and the whole Mamba mentality, he’s cut-throat in anything he does. In the locker room afterwards he was telling us what we needed to do to be successful. To have him do that really means a lot.”
Collier was her usual self Saturday in another performance that solidified her American Athletic Conference Player of the Year and All-American credentials. In her final regular season home game, she had 29 points and nine rebounds as No. 2 UConn topped Houston 83-61 in league action.
“The danger when you have days like this is when someone tries to make it into a career day,” said UConn coach Geno Auriemma, who returned to the sidelines after missing his team’s road trip to Tulsa and Wichita State due to illness. “You worry they’re going to try and do a lot instead of staying within themselves. Pheesa did what Pheesa does. To have her mom, dad, and brother here … They don’t get the opportunity to come here a lot. It’s probably not her last game at Gampel Pavilion. It’s like she said. She’s not looking at it as an end. She wants to celebrate what we’ve all been able to accomplish the last four years.”
Senior Katie Lou Samuelson was also inducted into the Huskies of Honor in the pregame ceremony but the two-time All-American went out with back spasms following a collision while going for a loose ball with 3:35 left in the first half. She played the opening 1:23 of the third quarter before coming out for good.
Her availability for the Huskies’ game at South Florida Monday is unknown.
“Anytime anyone has to sit out you’re concerned with what the potential is,” Auriemma said. “Lou thought she could give it a shot in the second half and obviously she couldn’t. We’ll see tomorrow how she feels and we’ll see Monday how she feels and we’ll go from there.”
The top five seeds for the AAC Tournament at Mohegan Sun Arena are set, with UConn at No. 1 followed by Central Florida, Cincinnati, Houston, and USF. The Huskies will open postseason play Saturday at 2 p.m. with a quarterfinal-round contest.