In the few close games the UConn women’s basketball team has played this season, Napheesa Collier has stepped up and delivered.
In the Huskies’ two-point season-opening win at Florida State, Collier scored 28 points. When Tulane gave UConn a scare on the road on Feb. 18, Collier put up 26. As the regular season came to an end Monday night against USF, Collier saved her best for last to help the Huskies to their ninth undefeated regular season in program history with a 96-68 win over the Bulls.
Less than a week after setting a new career high of 31 against Temple, Collier was even better against USF, scoring a personal-best 39 points on 15-19 shooting while adding 12 rebounds. Collier’s 39 points were the fourth most by a UConn player in a single game, and was just one point shy of joining Nykesha Sales and Maya Moore as the third 40-point scorer in program history.
Svetlana Abrosimova and Kerry Bascom are the only other Huskies to score 39 points in a game, and Collier’s 39 points were the most since Breanna Stewart dropped 37 on Temple on Jan. 28, 2014.
Collier and the Huskies wasted no time getting ahead against the Bulls, with UConn hitting five of their first eight shots, including four-straight 3-pointers from four different Huskies, to jump out to a 14-2 lead. After two 3-pointers from USF’s Laia Flores pulled the Bulls within nine, Collier would score UConn’s final six points of the quarter and finish with 13 of the Huskies’ 28 points in the opening period.
Katie Lou Samuelson became the 44th member of the Huskies’ 1,000-point club three minutes into the second quarter after a layup off a pass from Gabby Williams to put UConn up 38-20. Samuelson needed just 66 games to reach the 1,000-point mark, which was the seventh-fastest in program history. She’d finish the night with 16 points and four assists on 6-19 shooting.
Samuelson, Crystal Dangerfield and Saniya Chong would add one 3-pointer each in the second quarter to give the Huskies seven made 3-pointers in the first half. UConn would finish the day shooting 10-26 from deep, marking the first time the Huskies hit at least 10 3-pointers since Jan. 17, 2017 against Tulsa.
Chong finished the night with nine points, while Dangerfield had nine assists and no turnovers, joining Collier, Samuelson and Williams (18 points) in double figures.
While UConn finished out the final 3:30 of the first half with three players in foul trouble, Collier was all the Huskies needed, scoring eight points in the second quarter to giver her 21 for the half as UConn took a 56-38 lead into the locker room.
Collier stayed hot to open the second half, scoring the Huskies’ first six points of the period and giving the Huskies a 62-45 lead. Dangerfield ended the quarter on a high-note, going coast-to-coast to hit a baseline jumper at the buzzer to bring the Huskies’ lead to 23 with 10 minutes left to play.
In the final period, Collier tied her career-high with an easy layup to open up the fourth quarter. She’d score 10 of UConn’s 14 fourth-quarter points, reaching 39 on her second 3-pointer of the night with 4:33 left to play before exiting the game with four minutes left.
After freshman Kyla Irwin’s layup with 2:18 left put UConn up 35, its largest lead of the night, USF’s Kitija Laksa tacked on five points in the final two minutes. Up until then, Laksa was kept in check after dropping 34 points in the Bulls’ previous game, and finished the night with 15 points on 6-18 shooting. Ariadna Pujol led USF with 16 points and seven rebounds.
With her 39-point performance, Collier is now averaging 29.6 points in her last three games and shooting 80 percent (37/46) from the field. She’s also showcased a knack for stepping out and knocking down 3-pointers as of late, shooting 4-5 from deep in that span. With Collier firing on all cylinders and coming off a career performance, the Huskies are off until Saturday, where they will open up postseason play in the American Athletic Conference quarterfinals at Mohegan Sun Arena.