Rebecca Lobo was the player. She wasn’t only recruited by UConn, in fact, it was reported at the time that nearly 100 schools were on her tail.
Fast forward to her senior year of college in 1995. Lobo led UConn to its first ever undefeated season as well as a national championship against heated-rival Tennessee. It was almost as if the tide was changing and, oh, has the tide changed.
About 24 years later, UConn has 11 national championships and are the constant favorites to win more national championships. And it all started with Lobo. At halftime, the Huskies will retire Lobo’s number 50 to ensure her number will never be worn by a UConn player ever again.
Lobo is not the only player who will be honored Saturday. UConn will celebrate its seniors Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson. The dynamic classmates passed Breanna Stewart and Moriah Jefferson to become the Huskies’ highest-scoring duo of all time. Between Collier and Samuelson, they have accounted for 4,417 points. That is a lot of 3-pointers, drives to the lane, fade-aways, jumpers and clutch baskets.
This season, Collier has emerged as the go-to player down the stretch. She is coming off her season-high 32 points against Wichita State and Collier leads the team in points (20) and rebounds (10.5) per game. Due to her strong season, her name is on several award watch lists and her head coach Geno Auriemma has raved about her prowess on both sides of the floor.
“Every coach talks about their players, I mean, as if they are the best players ever,” Auriemma said on Feb. 11. “I usually don’t get caught up in that stuff, you know, but there can’t be, anywhere, a player that’s playing better or does more for their team than Napheesa Collier does. I don’t see how that’s possible.”
As for Katie Lou Samuelson, she has always been known for her 3-point shooting. But this year, it is her aggressiveness in the paint and versatility that has caught the eye of her coach.
“There was a stretch there where she rebounded really really, well throughout the first half,” Auriemma said of Samuelson’s 10 rebounds against Memphis. “She just had a great game (Feb. 20). She was locked in, you know, she was active. We talked a little bit about – there are two kinds of rebounders – what I call the ‘accidental rebounder,’ where the ball lands in their hands because they have to be standing in the right spot. And then there are those guys who go get rebounds. Tonight she just went and got ‘em and that was really cool for me to see.”
The No. 2 Huskies (26-2, 14-0 The American) will be playing in Gampel Pavilion for the last time during the regular season against Houston (15-12, 9-5 The American) at 1 p.m. The first time UConn played Houston this season, the Huskies won 81-61. That game started close in the first quarter, but UConn outscored Houston 27-9 in the second quarter, which pushed the game out of reach.
Each starter for UConn finished the game with double-digit points. Of course Samuelson and Collier led the way with 19 and 18 points, respectively.
Houston is coming off a 59-49 loss to USF, breaking a four-game winning streak. Jasmyne Harris is the team’s leading scorer with 16.2 points per game. But when these two teams squared off earlier this season, it was Octavia Barnes who led the way with 15 points.
Freshman Olivia Nelson-Ododa has been getting better and better as the season has gone on for UConn. Against Wichita State, Nelson-Ododa blocked six shots and scored eight points in 19 minutes. Associate head coach Chris Dailey, who has coached the last two games while Auriemma is dealing with a stomach virus, said she has flourished in a game setting.
“The physical play is something that she’s trying to get used to and we try to put her though that, through a lot of contact in practice,” Dailey said. “Hopefully it’s making her a little bit more comfortable with contact during the game.”
Michael Logan is the sports editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.