STORRS – Playing in their second and final exhibition game before the regular season, the UConn women’s basketball team moved the ball well and shot the lights out at Gampel Pavilion Sunday afternoon in a 119-56 blowout victory over the reigning Division II champions, the Ashland Eagles.
“I think, especially for this being our second game, we’re meshing really well, sharing the ball really well,” said UConn junior forward Napheesa Collier. “I think…we had 36 assists for the game, so I think we did a really good job of that today.”
While the entire team put on a fantastic show in the last tune-up game before travelling to Stanford for a tough season-opener next Sunday, no Husky was more influential than Collier.
Collier was influential in nearly every facet of the game against Ashland Sunday afternoon, demonstrating her ability to score with efficiency, facilitate with ease and rebound with a constant energy. She was an unrelenting force and imposed her will on the Eagles, nearly earning a triple-double in just 19 minutes on the court.
“There’s never any question about what Napheesa does when she touches the ball,” said UConn head coach Geno Auriemma. “She’s been trying to do some other things and being a good playmaker is certainly one of those things.”
Collier’s scoring, in particular, was back to its peak form from last season. She showed off all of her tricks in the paint Sunday, beating Ashland defenders every which way she wanted. Collier’s repertoire of scoring moves from within the arc is second to none, a big reason why she finished the game with 19 points on 9-12 shooting from the floor in less than half a game.
“You know that Napheesa can score, last year was an example of that,” Auriemma said.
Collier’s awareness in the paint, both on offense and defense, is just as impressive as her scoring gift. Perhaps that particular trait about her game is why she was able to tack on seven assists and seven boards to her stat sheet Sunday. It’s that instinctive ability around the hoop that makes Collier so versatile and such an important cog in the UConn engine.
“It helps a lot (when I’m scoring well) because if you get more than one person trying to guard you then you have an open three, or you have someone cutting so I think it’s helping a lot,” Collier said.
Collier is more than capable of dishing the ball to an open teammate when the option is there on offense, but her mere presence is sometimes enough to draw defenders closer to her and get teammates open. That is part of the reason that the Huskies are able to have such a fluid offense that gets somebody an open shot almost every time down the floor.
Senior guard Kia Nurse, in particular, was the beneficiary of being left alone when defenders drifted inside toward Collier. Nurse finished the game 7-7 from the field, and 4-4 from three-point range.“Our team does a pretty good job of finding who that open man is and…there’s only so many good defenders you can have on your team and you’re gonna use a couple of them up on some of our other guys for sure,” Auriemma said.
Collier, along with classmate Katie Lou Samuelson, was honored prior to the game for reaching the 1,000-point club last season. The junior from O’Fallon, Missouri only continues to improve, however, and could very well become one of the top-five scorers in UConn history, together with Samuelson, by the time she’s finished her career in Storrs.
Next up, the Huskies will officially get their season underway. They take on the Stanford Cardinal in a road test this coming Sunday, their first chance at earning redemption following last season’s loss in the Final Four.