Scoring 100 points is not easy to do. Even with the big-three of Katie Lou Samuelson, Napheesa Collier and Crystal Dangerfield, the Huskies had not reached the century mark in a game this season. Then Wednesday night’s drubbing came against ECU, when the Huskies scored 118 points and Saturday afternoon, UConn racked up 109 points against Temple.
“All of a sudden now the points pile up. I think things are moving a little bit smoother,” UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said. “Although, I don’t know that the first quarter was as smooth as I’d like it to be. But we’re getting good shots, the ball is moving well, people are being unselfish, like they usually are.”
The Huskies (21-2, 10-0 AAC) did get off to an inauspicious start against Temple (8-15, 4-6 AAC), but there was a sense that the team would turn it around. And they began to click at the 6:30 mark when they were down 9-7. Collier answered a Mia Davis layup, with one of her own to tie the game. At that point the Huskies went on a 7-0 run thanks to creating easy buckets and forcing turnovers.
Dangerfield was the gasoline and Collier was the engine that catapulted UConn to the 109- 74 victory. The senior earned her seventh-straight game of 20 plus points, finishing with 30 points, 14 rebounds and six assists. At this point of the season, with Collier putting up remarkable numbers, it is reasonable to wonder if she is worthy of the National Player of the Year award.
“I don’t know that there is a better player anywhere that does as much every night,” Auriemma said of Collier’s strong performance. “I’m sure people have already made up their mind who the best player in the country is or who the National Player of the Year is, whatever, any of that. I just don’t know that there is any one that, on every single night, does all the things that Pheesa does.”
Collier is coming off a strong performance against ECU, when she scored 21 points on a perfect 10-for-10 from the field. Coming into the game, Collier was tied for second in the conference for scoring (18.9 ppg) with teammate Katie Lou Samuelson, second in rebounding (9.7) and second in field goal percentage (.596). Collier said that she has gained confidence by building trust with her teammates.
“I feel like if I get the ball, there is not a lot of people who can stop me,” Collier said. “What I take most pride in, is that my teammates think that. So they know that I’ll come through for them if they put me in a certain position and I know they’ll do the same if I put them in a certain position.”
Dangerfield put together another strong performance as not only the team’s leading distributor, but also as the second-leading scorer with 22 points. The point guard was doing her typical no-look and behind-the-back passes, which drew admiration from the crowd, but she was connecting on 3-point attempts from way downtown as well. Auriemma said that her shots are starting to fall in the games after shooting impeccably in practice.
Dangerfield landed awkwardly late around the eight-minute mark of the fourth quarter. However, she said she is fine and good to go.
When the team had 35 assists against ECU, Auriemma said that was “fairy-tale land.” But the Huskies were able to come close with 31 Saturday, and that is a testament to the team’s willingness to locate the open man and continue to make the next pass.
“One of the best things that you can do when you have the ball in your hands all the time is, put the ball in somebody else’s hands for an easy shot,” Auriemma said of Dangerfield’s unselfishness on the court. “And all the great guards that we’ve ever had have been able to do that.”
The play that signified passing excellence at its pinnacle came around the three-minute mark of the third quarter to cap off a 12-0 run to put UConn up 80-55. Christyn Williams drove to the lane aggressively, kicked the ball out to Walker, who kicked it out to an open Dangerfield, who then dished it to an even more open Samuelson, who drained a 3-pointer. It was a play that Collier recalled detail-for-detail later on and it goes to show what is truly important for this team. It is about working together for a common goal, as several players have said.
With a talented South Carolina team coming to Hartford for a crucial game Monday night, UConn knows that that have to continue their aggressiveness and match South Carolina’s physicality.
“It’s going to be huge because they are going to come in and try to be physical with us, take some things away,” Dangerfield said about Monday night’s opponent. “And we haven’t really done well when teams take away our first look. So it’s going to big that we, again, share the ball. We’ve done that great the last two games.”
Michael Logan is the sports editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.