On Friday night at the Final Four in Tampa, the collegiate careers of Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson came to an end. The accomplishments of the two go on for a while:
Four years, eight conference championships, four-straight Final Fours, part of an 111-game win streak and one national title.
The duo are the highest-scoring teammates in UConn history with Collier third all-time with 2,391 points behind only Breanna Stewart and Maya Moore while Samuelson is fifth all-time with 2,342 trailing the three mentioned and Tina Charles.
Samuelson wraps up her career with the second-most made 3-pointers, 16 behind Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and sixth all-time in highest scoring average.
Collier finished the best rebounding season in program history by grabbing 411 boards, far out-pacing the previous record set by Charles of 372. She also holds the third-highest field goal percentage in school history at .614% (entering the Final Four).
When looking through the record books, Collier and Samuelson fall in the middle of the best of the best in UConn history. The fact that they only won one national championship shouldn’t be a negative on their respective legacies, the two simply showed how incredibly difficult winning it all is.
Breanna Stewart’s career is the outlier. No player should win four championships in four years. Diana Taurasi too, three in four years in still very difficult. The two greatest players in program history account for seven of UConn’s 11 national titles. That’s not to take away from those championship teams, but it’s unfair to expect any player, even two as good as Collier and Samuelson, to live up to that.
Could those two have won more than one? Absolutely. Should they have? That’s tough to expect. In 2016-17, Collier and Samuelson led the Huskies to an undefeated regular season despite what many expected to be a rebuilding year. Mississippi State needed overtime and a buzzer-beater to beat them.
The next year, the script was similar except everyone expected UConn to go undefeated, which they did. But then, Notre Dame needed overtime and a game-winner to beat them. The fact Samuelson played on one leg that entire season without saying anything is a testament to her toughness.
And now this year, the Huskies overachieved, taking a relatively weaker squad back to the Final Four and coming close to reaching the national championship game. Even if UConn did hang on against Notre Dame, Baylor would have been a very tough task. The Huskies were just beat by a better team.
Overall, this duo finished their careers with five career losses, three of which came in the Final Four. It’s a painful reality and will likely haunt Collier and Samuelson for a while. But to dwell on the three failures instead of the mountains of success is a poor way to remember to of the best players and people in UConn’s illustrious history.
“Yeah, five losses, and three of them are here, huh,” Auriemma noted. “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.”
“Lou and Phee” will forever be intertwined in history but that’s probably how they want it. The two classmates are best friends and the perfect pair. Samuelson’s loud personality matched well with Collier’s quiet and reserved nature. The two began their careers as secondary figures to Stewart’s march to a fourth title before taking the reigns themselves and becoming the go-to players for three seasons.
“It’s been really special,” Collier said of her last four years with Samuelson. “She’s been a great player and my best friend so going through these four years with her has been really awesome and I can’t believe it’s over.”
The sting of the Final Four loss is still fresh as UConn will once again go home without raising the trophy at the end of it all. But Collier and Samuelson accomplished too much, were too good, to be remembered for only the negative parts of their careers. The sad reality is very few college careers have the perfect ending, and Lou and Phee are no different.