UNCASVILLE, Conn. -- Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson joined the University of Connecticut women's basketball team in part to be part of history.
The Huskies' sophomores made some history of their own Friday.
Collier and Samuelson were named the American Athletic Conference Co-Players of the Year at a press conference at Mohegan Sun Arena, site of the fourth annual AAC tournament. It is the first time that a UConn player, let alone a pair of Huskies, has shared the top league honor.
"The only better way they could have done it was like the one year they named all five of our starters to the all-tournament team at the Big East Tournament," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "Actually I would have been disappointed if they would have picked only one of the two. I figured those two had an advantage over Gabby (Williams) because of how dominant scoring-wise they were. Gabby did a bunch of other things. Those two put up so many big numbers it was hard to overlook them."
The 11 AAC coaches did the voting, and a coach cannot vote for his or her own player.
Auriemma and Temple's Tonya Cardoza, who was Auriemma's assistant from 1994 until she took the Owls' job in 2008, were named Co-Coaches of the Year. It was the 14th league honor for Auriemma and the first for Cardoza.
South Florida forward Tamara Henshaw was named Freshman of the Year. Tulane senior guard Leslie Vorpahl is the Scholar-Athlete award winner.
Samuelson and Collier were unanimous selections to the all-AAC first team announced on Thursday. They were informed about the Co-Player of the Year honors shortly before Friday's announcement.
"We were both excited and turned to each other and smiled," Collier said. "It was a thought because we were coming here for the press conference. "I didn't know what to expect but I couldn't be happier with the outcome."
They are the fifth and sixth UConn sophomores to be named Player of the Year, joining Kerry Bascom (1989), Svetlana Abrosimova (1999), Maya Moore (2009) and Breanna Stewart (2014). Bascom, Abrosimova, and Moore were honored by the Big East.
"It was an awesome and exciting moment," Samuelson said. "We gave each other a hug and smiled. I think we were glad to hear it and got to share that moment together privately before they announced it.
"I thought it was going to be her. She's been playing great. We were going to be happy no matter what. Being able to share it with her was awesome and it shows what kind of team we've been this year."
Collier ranks second in the league in scoring (20.4), third in rebounds (nine), tied for ninth in steals (1.8) and first in blocks (1.9) and field-goal percentage (68.6, which also ranks second in the nation to Maryland's Brionna Jones' 69 percent). The St. Peters, Missouri, native has nine double-doubles on the season, including seven in her last 10 games.
Against USF on Monday, she scored a career-high 39 points on 15-for-19 shooting with 12 rebounds and four blocks as the Huskies (29-0) completed an unbeaten regular season. Only two players in UConn history have reached 40 -- Sales and another former Jefferson City, Missouri, resident like Collier, Moore (twice). On Tuesday, Collier was named the AAC Player of the Week for a league-leading fourth time this season. She was an all-freshman pick a year ago.
"If you think about the team first, the individual accolades will come later," Collier said. "We emphasize the team things and that mentality has really helped."
Samuelson leads the AAC in scoring (20.7) and is the only player that ranks in the league's top eight in field-goal percentage (eighth at 48.6), 3-point percentage (second at 41.3) and free-throw percentage (sixth at 82.7). She tops the AAC in 3-pointers made (93) and her 2.9 assists per game average is 15th. On Monday at USF, she became the sixth Huskies' sophomore to reach 1,000 career points, joining Abrosimova (1999), Moore (2009), Bria Hartley (2012), Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis (2014) and Stewart (2014). The previous five were named WBCA All-Americans as sophomores. Samuelson made it to the milestone in her 66th game.
A year ago, Samuelson was named to the all-freshman team and to the AAC all-tournament team. Her older sister Karlie, a senior at Stanford, was named to the all-Pac-12 team earlier this week.
"Karlie congratulated me about getting the 1,000 and laughing about how we both got it in the same year," Samuelson said. "It was a cool moment. I haven't talked to her since (the Pac 12 honors) came out but when I saw it I was so happy for her. She's had such a great year and she's deserving of it. I just hope they keep winning."
Auriemma, in his 32nd season, owns a record of 984-134 record. He ranks fourth all-time in wins behind Tennessee's Pat Summitt (1,098), Stanford's Tara VanDerveer (1,005) and North Carolina's Sylvia Hatchell (990). His .880 winning percentage is tops all time. The 62-year-old has led UConn to 11 national championships, 17 Final Four appearances (including the last nine straight), 23 league regular season titles, and 23 league tournament titles. The Huskies have also had four of the five longest winning streaks in NCAA history in his tenure include the current run of 104.
In the back of the room, Cincinnati coach Jamelle Elliott was in tears.
Elliott played for Auriemma (1992-96) and was on his coaching staff for 12 years before taking the Bearcats job in 2009. Cardoza was an assistant in Storrs during Elliott's final two seasons as a player and worked side by side as coaches for a decade.
"I was just so happy," Elliott said. "Tonya is just so humble and so reserved. She's a great coach and I know how hard she worked and the things she's struggled with at Temple. I remember when she didn't get in the NCAA tournament last year and how heartbroken she was. To come back and do it in a way that's there no doubt ... To watch two people you love up there you just want to be able to support them and I'm just so happy."
Cardoza has led Temple to a 23-6 and a No. 2 seed in the tournament. The Owls face either seventh-seeded Cincinnati or No. 10 Houston in quarterfinal action Saturday.
"I'm thrilled Tonya and Jamelle put themselves in position for something like that to happen," Auriemma said. "To see Tonya do what she's done and be able to go ... She's gotten better and better every year and she's grown up as a person. I'm proud of who she's become even more than a coach. She's become a professional. I would never have imagined 20 years ago she would stay in the business and become as good as anyone."
UConn will begin AAC tournament play Saturday at 2 p.m. with a quarterfinal round game against No. 9 Tulsa, which beat No. 8 Memphis 60-55 Friday in the first round.