During her days on the basketball court at the University of Virginia, the professional ranks, and in the Olympics where she won three gold medals, Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame guard Dawn Staley played as hard as anyone.
So her words mean something. And the United States U-19 national team and South Carolina had strong praise for Napheesa Collier on Saturday after the UConn freshman forward had a double-double of 24 points and 14 rebounds to lead Team USA past Spain 80-65 in a semifinal game of the FIBA U-19 world championships in Chekhov, Russia.
"Pheese is relentless," said Staley, using the same word that she used to describe Collier's play for her last summer with the U-18 club. "She is competitive. She doesn't want to lose and she leaves it all out there every time she steps on the floor. Sometimes we have to think about how the tournament is set up (with seven games in nine days) and we didn't want to play her too many minutes to give her a little bit of decompression for what we'll face tomorrow. But it's hard to keep her off the floor because of what she brings to the table."
Team USA (6-0) will face host Russia (6-0) for the gold medal Sunday at 1:15 p.m. (EDT).
Collier was 10-for-13 from the floor with two of her misses from 3-point land and 4-for-5 at the foul line. Six of her rebounds were on the offensive end and she added two assists and two steals in her 29 minutes of action.
"My teammates really helped get me open," Collier said. "I got the rebounds and stuff, but I couldn't have done it without them.
"It felt really good to come out like that. Hopefully we can do that tomorrow and that tonight was a little sneak peek of tomorrow."
South Carolina sophomore forward A'ja Wilson had a double-double of 20 points on 8-for-18 shooting and 16 rebounds as Team USA outscored Spain 66-24 in the paint.
"Pheese came out and was just unstoppable," Team USA and Duke sophomore forward Azura Stevens said. "That's what she's capable of doing. It's really cool and fun playing with her. And then A'ja just had a steady game. She didn't necessarily start out super on fire, but she kept giving energy and got 24 in the end."
It was Team USA's third meeting with Spain in 12 days Saturday. The Americans defeated Spain 72-57 in their Group B opener on July 18 and picked up a 72-51 exhibition win on July 14.
Spain (3-3) proved to be pesky.
"We had to be really focused because playing a team three times in two weeks is really hard," Collier said. "But we knew our scout really well so we were just trying to execute it well."
Team USA never trailed. The Americans jumped out to 10-2 lead. Spain got even early in the second quarter but a 10-0 run put Team USA back in front. It was 44-31 at halftime.
Spain hung around and was down 62-52 after three quarters and 70-58 with 5:27 remaining. But seven unanswered points by the Americans put it away.
Stevens added 11 points for Team USA. UConn Class of 2016 commit Crystal Dangerfield chipped in six points in 18 minutes off the bench. Laura Queved had 17 points for Spain. Duke freshman Angela Salvadores scored 16 points but was just 7-for-23 from the floor.
Russia ousted Australia 76-57 in Saturday's other semifinal, so Team USA knows it has its work cut out for it.
"It's nothing like anybody will ever imagine, no conference or national championship game," Staley said. "None of that, because, those are at neutral sites. To represent your country in another country, on their home court where there will be screaming fans, hissing fans, and everybody in the gym is going to be against us, it builds character. Our team has gained a lot of chemistry over the past month, so we've readied ourselves for this situation."
Collier, who is looking for her third gold medal in international competition, thinks her team is up for the challenge.
"It's going to be really tough, but I'm actually really excited for it," she said. "I can't wait for tomorrow. To hopefully beat someone on their home court for a gold medal would be really exciting."
(Quotes courtesy of USA Basketball)