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UConn Women’s Basketball: Napheesa Collier is the X-Factor for the Huskies

The last two years, Collier has been great. Now, UConn needs her to be transcendent.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

Calling 16.1 points per game, 7.4 rebounds per game and a third team All-American honor a down year sounds pretty crazy by most standards. But Napheesa Collier isn’t like most players.

Collier’s sophomore year was nothing shy of dominate, including numerous first team All-American honors and a spot among the four finalists for the Naismith trophy. She was one of just 20 players in the country who averaged over 20 points per game. Only two players in that group also averaged over nine boards per game. Collier was one of them, and the other had a seven minute per game advantage.

Collier was also the most efficient scorer in the country, scoring 1.44 points per shot attempt. For perspective, that’s more efficient than any WNBA player this summer. She was nearly automatic from inside the arc, making 70.9 percent of her two-point shot attempts, the highest percentage of any player in the past three seasons.

In her junior year, Collier’s stats still placed her among the top five percent of players in the country. However, with a thinner roster than in years past, the Huskies will rely on Collier to perform at the next level. Her ability to replicate, or even exceed, her own sophomore year performance will be the x-factor for the Huskies this season.

Luckily for UConn, Geno Auriemma knows that.

“You can count on her, and you know you can count on her,” Auriemma said. “[Napheesa’s] going to go out, she’s going to get a double-double and she’s going to play her butt off, and that’s not going to change.”

Collier has already shown signs that she’s ready to step up to the plate, through her time with USA basketball earlier this semester. She impressed enough in both training camp and in exhibition games to land a spot as the only collegiate player on the list of finalists for the World Cup team. Despite not making the final roster, she gained invaluable experience playing among the best players in the world.

Collier noted that one of the biggest takeaways from her experience was how intelligently everyone played.

“Sometimes it’s just making the smart play, instead of working as hard as you can and tiring yourself out,” she said.

In addition to the learning experience, her performance with USA basketball demonstrated her ability to succeed at an elite level of competition. In exhibition play for Team USA, Collier averaged 14.5 points and 11.9 rebounds per 40 minutes of play.

As the Huskies continue the pursuit of their 12th national championship, an all-time season from Napheesa will be key to their success. If Collier dominates in her senior season, the Huskies will have a chance to raise a trophy on the first Sunday in April. If not, this season will likely end the same way the last two have.