With freshman Crystal Dangerfield out and the starters playing the majority of the minutes, sophomore Napheesa Collier stepped up for the Huskies at the XL Center finishing with a team high 23 points in the team’s 27 point victory. Shooting an outstanding 91.6 percent on 11-12 from the field and scoring the first basket in each quarter, Collier once again was the rock that the young Huskies were able to rely on.
“Last year taught me I can’t play scared,” Collier said referring to her performance tonight. “I think I am being a lot more aggressive and confident than I was last year. I think that year really gave me perspective, as I came back a lot stronger.”
After the Chattanooga Lady Mocs started the game up 5-0, Collier was able to stem the tide for the Huskies and score the first seven points of the game. Collier also established the Huskies presence in the post, as they outscored the Lady Mocs 48-16 in the paint. At the end of the first quarter, Collier was tied with sophomore Katie Lou Samuelson with a game-high seven points, helping UConn earn a 21-14 lead.
“She is unorthodox in a lot of ways,” said head coach Geno Auriemma. “She is able to create space for herself that a lot of other people can’t. She is going to do exactly what she has to do to get the shot up on the rim and score, that is why her shooting percentage is so high when she touches the ball. She just knows and she has a great feel.”
Collier added the first bucket of the second quarter, extending what would be a 12-0 UConn run, spanning the end of the first and part of the second quarter. Ending the first half with 11 points, Collier was also a force on the defensive end, as she had two blocks in the game, giving her a team-high 10 blocks on the season.
Being a guard and a forward, Collier has the unique ability to guard multiple positions and switch on pick and rolls. Collier and Auriemma both commented that her defense needs improvement. She said she needs to be tougher in the post while Auriemma joked, “If she could average 40 it would be a wash with the person she was guarding.”
Following the halftime intermission, and a Chattanooga basket to open up the second half, Collier was once again able to start the scoring for UConn. In the third quarter she was three of three from the field and added two defensive rebounds in only seven minutes of play. The Huskies went on an 18-0 run and outscored the Lady Mocs 20-5 overall, shooting 52.9 percent from the field and going two of four from behind the arc.
Mirroring her third quarter performance, Collier was once again three of three from the field and had the opening bucket of the fourth quarter. The sophomore finished the game with a game-high 23 points, and was able to add four rebounds and four assists in 29 minutes of play.
“To me, she is an automatic two points, as soon as she gets the ball in that area [the post],” junior Gabby Williams said of Collier. “She looks really comfortable right now and she is only going to get better.”
With 23 points, Collier has now scored 20 or more points for the second straight game and for the third time overall this season. With the 80-43 victory, the Huskies have now won 80 games in a row and improved their all-time record at the XL Center to 156-13.
Matt Kren is a staff writer for The Daily Campus, covering women’s basketball. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.