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Battle of the Besties: Did Samuelson injury dampen rivalry with Collier?

Napheesa Collier’s stock continues to rise, while Katie Lou Samuelson’s WNBA rookie season has been marked by injury.

Chicago Sky v Minnesota Lynx
Napheesa Collier recorded 13 points and 3 blocked shots in her second meeting against the Chicago Sky, while Katie Lou Samuelson hasn’t played one minute since June 9.
Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

The last time the Chicago Sky played the Minnesota Lynx was about a month and a half ago, when Lynx rookie Napheesa Collier showered James Wade’s defense with a cold opening to remember. There was also a four-game win streak on the line for Minnesota. Meanwhile, the Sky’s Katie Lou Samuelson — who has been scratched from the lineup for the past several weeks — was restricted to a cheerleader role, but was listed as a reserve if needed.

Though as unfortunate news as Samuelson’s absence may be, it’s been more of a mental obstacle than about overcoming the physical injury itself. Even then, Katie Lou’s been able to find humor and other hobbies in the midst of an unfavorable situation. Collier, too, got the news and expressed support for her wing woman by taking a trip down memory lane in hopes of boosting morale.

On the court, though, it’s been strictly business for Collier in her first-year campaign in the majors. Before the second meeting of the 2019 WNBA season between the Lynx and Sky, she had averaged over 30 minutes of on-court time. The tale’s been different for fourth overall pick Samuelson.

Collier’s run-in with adversity made an appearance when Jessica Shepard’s injury caused Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve to relocate Collier to small forward. But since doing so, the impact No. 24 has had on Reeve’s team is proving to be immeasurable.

First meeting recap — May 25, 2019

Napheesa Collier, Minnesota Lynx

33 minutes played, 27 points, 6 rebounds, 3 blocks, 3-for-4 three-point shooting

Collier’s performance in her WNBA debut would go down as one of the best all-time. In hindsight, it was just a sampling of what’s not only expected of Collier, but also just how high octane her level of play is regardless of opponent. A part of her 27 points was the long-range shooting clinic she put on, converting 3-of-4 from downtown. That statline would be her best three-point performance of the entire season until a 3-of-3 effort on June 22 against the New York Liberty.

Katie Lou Samuelson, Chicago Sky

17 minutes played, 4 points, 2 assists

When one becomes absorbed in the numbers, especially after just a single game, one loses sight of the bigger picture. Not every WNBA rookie will achieve the same path in the same way. Yes, Collier had a statistically better game, but Phee’s increased playing time was in more immediate demand than Samuelson’s.

Take Chicago Bears football great Walter Payton, for example. He might not have experienced an impressive rookie season in 1975, starting only seven games. But that same Payton would eventually go on to be a member of the NFL’s exclusive fraternity — the Hall of Fame. Like Payton, Samuelson is very passionate about her sport — she’s an excellent teacher, which she showcased during her senior season at UConn. She’s an even better student who’s surrounded by a good cast, literally and figuratively.

Second meeting recap — July 10, 2019

Napheesa Collier, Minnesota Lynx

36 minutes played, 13 points, 4 rebounds, 3 steals, 3 blocked shots

Asia Taylor and Odyssey Sims may have stolen the show for the Lynx, but Napheesa Collier filled the holes that weren’t tended to. Her 13 points would mark the fifth time in six games where she has scored in double figures, along with a season-high in blocked shots (3) — Collier’s second game with such numbers since opening day. As was the case at UConn, Phee really has no viable option to rest with the wear and tear of the Lynx’s roster. In fact, she’s not played less than 25 minutes all season long, but she has nevertheless responded very well to the stress of going zero-to-60 in just a few weeks.

Katie Lou Samuelson, Chicago Sky

Listed as active; DNP

Up until her injury, Samuelson hadn’t had a lot of opportunities to comb through her identity as a WNBA player, playing a total of three games. That’s because Allie Quigley, Courtney Vandersloot and Diamond DeShields seem to be running the show in ways where Samuelson will be considered helpful in the future. But Lou doesn’t mind soaking it all in, despite wanting the experience. She knows full well that playing time has to be earned, especially on a roster full of contributors, as she nurses her right wrist injury.

Collier’s and Samuelson’s last meeting of the season

Chicago Sky at Minnesota Lynx

When: Friday, August 27, at 8 p.m. ET

Where: Target Center, Minneapolis, MN

How to watch: ESPN3, WNBA League Pass