BRIDGEPORT—Hours after being named to AP All-American First Team, sophomore Napheesa Collier showed the country that the AP was right in its decision. Collier dominated the No. 10 seed Oregon Ducks, scoring 28 points and grabbing 12 rebounds in the 90-52 Elite Eight victory. Collier was named the Bridgeport Regional Most Outstanding Player, and with her last basket, a jumper with 6:46 to go in the fourth, cemented her place as the 45th member of UConn’s 1,000 career point club.
“She's effortless in what she does,” head coach Geno Auriemma said about Collier’s play this season. “Seriously, it's like a self-driving car. It's just effortless. She just goes. I mean, she's effortless on defense, too. Don't get me wrong. But the offense for her just comes effortless. I can't even explain it.”
Throughout this year’s NCAA tournament, Collier has been seemingly unstoppable, averaging 22.7 points, 10.3 rebounds and 2.7 blocks in just 30.7 minutes of play, as she exceeded all of those numbers against Oregon. In 34 minutes today, Collier had four blocks and only one turnover, as she was able to keep one of the tallest teams in the nation outside of the paint on defense by making two threes.
In the first quarter, the Huskies jumped out to an electric start, despite Collier going 3-8 from the field. Collier was able to connect on her first 3-point attempt and add seven points, which forced the Oregon forwards to move out of the paint, leaving holes for junior Gabby Williams to score easy layups.
“We tried to come out really hard defensively, we tried to be really locked in and force them to do things they did not want to do” Collier said regarding the fast start for the Huskies.
Despite having multiple players over 6-foot-3, Collier and the Huskies held the Ducks to four points in the paint in the first quarter and outscored them 18-10 in the first half. Guarding their tallest players with the help of Williams, the Ducks two big forwards, freshmen Ruthy Hebard and Mallory McGwire, were held to 16 total points on a combined 8-18 shooting. They only grabbed five total boards and had six turnovers between them.
“We really tried to get steals and not have it go into the post in the first place,” Collier said about guarding the taller Oregon forwards. “When it was thrown into the post we tried to force them to their weak hands.”
In the second quarter, the sophomore took control of the game, leading both teams with eight points and two blocks, while adding three rebounds, including two offensive rebounds in the quarter. At halftime, she had 15 points and six rebounds, and UConn was up 49-24 en route to their 10th straight Final Four.
“Well, we didn't mean to give them that much room. I think our freshmen centers, both of them, got a little gun shy,” Oregon head coach Kelly Graves said about guarding Collier and Williams. “You know, if they were going to make -- if Gabby was going to make 17-footers and Napheesa was going to make those shots, hey, you know, all the more power to them.”
Collier was once again her efficient self in the third quarter, going 3-4 from the field for six points. In the fourth, she only played four minutes, but had seven points on 3-3 shooting, blocked a shot and grabbed four defensive rebounds.
On her last shot of the night made, she joined sophomore Katie Lou Samuelson, junior Kia Nurse and Gabby Williams in the 1,000 point club. Collier has an incredible 743 points this season so far, pushing her past Samuelson to be the leading scorer for UConn on the year.
“I mean it feels cool but right now we have bigger things to work on,” Collier said about joining the 1,000 point club. “As cool as it is, I want to keep working and maybe get 2000.”
Even with the Final Four against No. 2 Mississippi State on the horizon, Collier is taking the next game like she always does one at a time, as she is not focused on scoring 28 points or grabbing 12 rebounds but about the team winning. Whenever Collier submits a great performance, which this season has almost been every game, she always is the first one to give away the credit to the teammates. She is not in it for the number on the back of the jersey, but rather, for the name on the front.
“At times my team is doing most of the work. They would drive in and make people help and then dish it to me so I would get the point,” Collier said praising her teammates. “A lot of my points came from my teammates working so hard, so it was definitely a team effort and they did a great job.”
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.