Napheesa Collier has a new gold medal and memories that will never get old.
The UConn freshman forward recorded a double-double of 10 points and 10 rebounds along with six steals, and tournament Most Valuable Player A’ja Wilson had 30 points as the United States national team topped host Russia 78-70 Sunday in the gold medal game of the FIBA U-19 world championships in Chekhov, Russia.
“I love this team and I loved getting to meet them all and being with them,” Collier said in a telephone interview after the win. “This is something that I will remember forever. We were talking after the game and the best thing is that we said we would stay in touch during out seasons so that will be fun.”
Collier joined Wilson on the all-tournament team after averaging 12.7 points on 54.2 percent shooting from the floor and team highs of 9.3 rebounds and 2.8 steals.
UConn Class of 2016 commit Crystal Dangerfield had four points and a team high five assists off the bench and was on the floor with Collier down the stretch when the gold was being won.
Dangerfield and Collier will have three years together in Storrs.
“I love playing with Pheese,” Dangerfield said on the telephone. “She’s high energy and so intense, just a great player on both sides of the ball. This past month I’ve learned from her and she’s helped me, and I can’t wait to get to Connecticut to play with her.”
The gold medal was the third for Collier in international play to go along with her USA triumphs at the 2014 FIBA Americas U-18 tournament and 2014 Youth Olympic Games. It’s the second gold medal for Dangerfield to go with the one she captured at the 2013 FIBA Americas U-16 event.
“For me, I think this is most satisfying,” Collier said. “Russia is a great team and we came and beat them in Russia in a game that was just intense the whole way.”
Team USA trailed by as many as eight in the second quarter. Down by four, the Americans closed the half on a 9-0 run, capped by a Collier hoop, to take a 39-34 lead to the locker room.
It stayed close and the USA edge was 68-65 with 4:26 left. But baskets by Illinois sophomore Chatrice White and Wilson, a free throw by Dangerfield, and then a hoop by the point guard from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, made it a 10-point game with 2:46 to go.
Russia answered with five straight points but a Collier basket with 1:46 remaining and a Dangerfield free throw with 0:19 left put it away.
“I learned today that we are fighters,” Collier said. “We were down eight, which is not huge in the grand scheme of things, but we didn’t get down emotionally. We continued to work hard. We didn’t need much encouragement. We were playing for a gold medal.”
Dangerfield averaged 6.4 points, 2.7 assists, and 2.0 steals as one of the USA’s top reserves. She also had an assist-to-turnover ratio of plus-4.75 as she had just four turnovers in 130 minutes on the floor.
“This was a long trip and tournament but it was a lot of fun,” Dangerfield said. “I was fortunate to have great teammates and great coaches to work with.”
Dangerfield may be tired, but she won’t get much of a break. After returning home, she’ll play at Nike Nationals before starting her senior season at Blackman High.
Collier will get a break as she’ll head home to St. Peters, Missouri, for a few weeks before starting the fall semester at UConn.
“I have workouts to do, but I’m going to hang out with my family and friends and I’m really looking forward to it,” Collier said with a laugh.
She’ll have a reunion with three of her teammates during her freshman season. UConn will host Notre Dame and Ali Patberg and Florida State and Shakayla Thomas with both games expected to be in December.
Then there will be a trip to South Carolina to see Wilson. Of course, the Gamecocks are coached by U-19 mentor Dawn Staley.
“Coach Staley is awesome and I love her,” Collier said. “South Carolina will have a great team with A’ja and it will be fun playing against them. Hopefully, I’ll get better during our season and show them something they haven’t seen.”
The gold medal was the sixth straight in U-19 competition for Team USA. The last time the Americans missed out was in 2001. A team led by Diana Taurasi and coached by Geno Auriemma settled for bronze.