STORRS, Conn. -- Napheesa Collier won't have to look far to see some familiar faces on the South Carolina sideline Monday night when the top-ranked University of Connecticut women's basketball team hosts the No. 6 Gamecocks at sold-out Gampel Pavilion.
The Huskies' sophomore forward was a teammate of South Carolina junior forward A'ja Wilson on USA Basketball's gold-medal winning teams at the 2014 FIBA U-18 Americas Championship and the 2015 FIBA U-19 world championships. Team USA was coached at both events by South Carolina's Dawn Staley.
"A'ja is a real good player," Collier said. "She's tall and physical but she can also go on the perimeter and play. It's going to be a challenge."
Wilson averaged 18.3 points and 8.4 rebounds in 22.4 minutes to earn MVP honors at the U-19 world championships held in Chekov, Russia. It was Wilson's second U-19 gold as she was part of the 2013 squad that included former UConn All-Americans Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck. Collier averaged 12.7 points on 52.4 percent shooting from the floor as well as team highs of 9.3 rebounds and 2.4 steals in 24.1 minutes in 2015. The St. Peters, Missouri, native was selected to the all-tournament team.
Collier played just four minutes in UConn's 66-54 win at South Carolina last February and did not score. The only other time she did not dent the scoring column in 62 career games was against Notre Dame on Dec. 5, 2015. Wilson played only 23 minutes in Columbia as she reinjured an ankle in the second quarter with the Gamecocks already down by double figures. She returned in the second half and finished with 13 points and six rebounds.
Wilson will have a four-inch height advantage, and fellow post player Alaina Coates a three-inch advantage on Collier, who leads the American Athletic Conference in field-goal percentage at 67.5 while averaging 19.1 points and 8.7 rebounds.
"It's hard playing against people taller than me because I like shooting over people," Collier said. "I'll have to work on getting around them or shooting from the outside more.
"I hope to see our toughness come out because it is going to be a grind. They're a real good team and it's going to be a good game. I want to see us fight through it and come through with a win."
UConn (24-0) set up the opportunity to go for 100 wins in a row by defeating SMU 83-41 on Saturday. Collier (10 points, 13 rebounds) recorded her second straight double-double and her fourth in five outings. She has never had three consecutive double-doubles.
California, here they come
UConn and California-Berkeley out of the Pac-12 Conference have agreed to a four-game contract. The deal begins in 2017-18 with the Golden Bears visiting Connecticut.
"We wanted to make sure that we got some new teams in the mix that we haven't had for awhile and we're trying to spread it around through all of the conferences," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "I've known (Cal head coach) Lindsay (Gottlieb) snce she was a high school player and she was really anxious to do this. I wanted to accomodate that. It works or us, works for them, works for everyone. I think it will be a great series."
The Huskies have won three of four matchups with the Bears. California won the first game in Berkeley 76-60 on Nov. 24, 1991, which was also Rebecca Lobo's first game at UConn. The Huskies returned the favor during Lobo's senior year when they scored the first 25 points en route to a 99-52 rout of Cal at Gampel Pavilion on Dec. 28, 1994.
Their only NCAA tournament meeting came in the 2009 Trenton (New Jersey) regional semifinals. Tiffany Hayes had 28 points and seven assists as UConn overcame an eight-point deficit -- its largest that season -- for a 77-53 victory. The last meeting, an 80-47 Huskies win, was on Dec. 22, 2013, in the Maggie Dixon Classic at Madison Square Garden.
In its 2017-18 non-league schedule, UConn will host California, Louisville, Maryland, Notre Dame and Oklahoma; play at DePaul, Ohio State, South Carolina, Texas and UCLA; and have neutral-site games against Duquesne (in Toronto) and Michigan State (in Eugene, Oregon). That leaves one opening, and the Huskies are hopeful they can put together a homecoming game for junior forward and Sparks, Nevada, native Gabby Williams.
All's well that ends well?
Katie Lou Samuelson did not practice Thursday or Friday due to illness but was ready to go come game time Saturday, scoring 19 of her 22 points in the first half in the win over the Mustangs. The sophomore guard also had four rebounds, a pair of assists and three steals before coming out for the first and only time with 5:27 left in the third quarter.
While Auriemma noted how well the Huntington Beach, California, native handled adversity, the Hall of Fame coach also pointed out that she did not record an offensive rebound.
"She set her own record," Auriemma said. "How many games have we won in a row, 99? I think that's 99 games in a row that Lou has gotten zero offensive rebounds. She's on a streak of her own dating back to like seventh grade."
For the record, Samuelson hasn't had an offensive rebound in three straight games and no more than two in any game this season.
She did pass the 900-point plateau for her career Saturday and will enter Monday 79 away from reaching 1,000. Samuelson's older sister, Karlie, reached 1,000 points for her career last Friday when the senior helped Stanford to a win over Colorado.
UConn will be playing in front of a home sellout crowd Monday night for the first time since the 2016 Senior Day game against Tulane. ... The Huskies and Gamecocks have three common opponents -- LSU, Ohio State and Texas -- and are 3-0 against the trio. UConn's average margin of victory is 20 points while South Carolina's is 14.7 points. ... UConn freshman Molly Bent and South Carolina freshman Araion Bradshaw made up the starting backcourt for Tabor Academy in Marion, Massachusetts, a year ago. ... The Huskies have won 17 consecutive games against Southeastern Conference opponents dating back to a loss to LSU in the 2007 NCAA Fresno (California) Regional final. ... Auriemma will appears on ABC's Good Morning America on Monday at 8:30 a.m.