HARTFORD, Conn. -- The tough part for women's basketball coaches in the American Athletic Conference for three years was dealing with Breanna Stewart. The easy part for them came in March when they voted the University of Connecticut star the league's Player of the Year.
Stewart has graduated to the professional ranks but the coaches she left behind face an even more difficult task than before when they cast their all-league ballots next week.
Dealing with the Huskies is still tough. Top-ranked UConn clinched its fourth straight league regular season title outright Wednesday night with a 90-45 rout of second place and No. 23 Temple before a lively crowd of 10,149 at the XL Center.
But who's the 2017 AAC Player of the Year? Is it the league's most competent scorer Katie Lou Samuelson? Is it the league's most consistent player Napheesa Collier? Is it the league's most complete player Gabby Williams?
Since 1989, UConn has won 20 of its 23 conference regular season titles outright. Only once when Big East coaches picked Louisville's Angel McCoughtry in 2007 was the Player of the Year not a Husky.
UConn coach Geno Auriemma will not be able to vote for one of his own players.
"I'm glad I don't have a vote," Auriemma said. "Sometimes it's easy, and sometimes it's really easy. I don't think this is one of those years that it's really easy. But, I've got to say ... Would we be where we are right now without Gabby? Probably not. Would we be where we are today without Lou? Would be where we are right now without Pheesa? You look at those three and if you take any one of them away from us and we have major problems."
If one is closing fast in the stretch drive it's Collier. The sophomore forward was 13-for-14 from the floor for a career high 31 points to go with 13 rebounds, four assists, and three blocked shots Wednesday night. She has six double-doubles in her last eight games and in her two misses she had nine rebounds.
The St. Peters, Missouri, native is second in the AAC in scoring (19.8) to Samuelson, fourth in rebounds (9.0), first in field-goal percentage (68.0) and blocked shots (1.8), fifth in free-throw percentage (82.3) and tied for eighth in steals (1.8). The only other player in the league's top 10 in as many categories is Williams -- rebounds (fifth at 8.7), assists (fourth at 5.2), assist-to-turnover ratio (fifth at 2.0), steals (third at 2.8), blocked shots (sixth at 1.3), and field-goal percentage (second at 56.2). Samuelson is the only player in the conference to rank in the top six in field-goal percentage (48.4), free-throw percentage (82.1), and 3-point percentage (41.5). The sophomore guard is also the only player averaging at least 20 points (20.6).
No one, though, makes something hard look as easy as Collier does.
"It's effortless and it's every single day," Auriemma said. "And it's nothing spectacular. Gabby does spectacular things. Lou would go on these runs where she'll score and make shots from everywhere. Pheesa, you don't even notice. I looked at the box score at the end of the game tonight and pointed and said to CD (associate head coach Chris Dailey), 'Look at this. This is crazy. You don't even notice some of the stuff that she does.' It's incredible."
Collier, as usual, preferred to talk about team things like the Huskies' unbeaten record and latest league title.
"I'm really proud of this with what we were able to accomplish so far," she said. "This is exciting, any championship is."
Collier made her first six shots, missed a jumper with 1:18 left in the first quarter, then made her last seven. She also moved into second place in the national statistics in field-goal percentage just behind Maryland's Brionna Jones (68.8).
Williams had two assists to put her team-leading total at 140. The junior forward found a connection with Collier early in the season and continues to take advantage of it.
"I told her, 'Every time I pass you the ball, you'd better shoot it,' because sometimes she was letting stuff go," Williams said. "When she has the hot hand, there's no reason for her to not shoot it every time."
A 3-pointer with 7:30 left gave Collier the new career high in scoring. Her previous best was 28 in the season opener at Florida State.
She also became the third UConn player to have a 30-point game this season. Kia Nurse had 33 points against DePaul on Dec. 1 while Samuelson had games of 32 and 34 on the road trip to SMU and Tulsa Jan. 14 and 17. The only other time three Huskies had 30-point games in a single season was 2008-09 with Maya Moore (40 versus Syracuse on Jan. 17, 2009), Tina Charles (32 versus Vermont on March 22, 2009), and Renee Montgomery (30 versus Oklahoma on Nov. 30, 2008).
Only Tamika Williams has shot a better percentage in a season at UConn than where Collier is. How does she do it?
"You would have to ask her," Gabby Williams said. "I'd love to know, too, so that I can do it myself. I don't want to just say that it's God-given. Some of it is, but she has worked really, really hard. She is smart, and she is tough."
Remember, Collier played her whole freshman year with a torn labrum in her hip and still managed to be named to the AAC all-freshman team and play a key role in UConn's run to an unprecedented fourth national championship.
The other Player of the Year candidates did their part as well Wednesday night as UConn (27-0 overall, 14-0 AAC) rebounded after a sub-par performance at Tulane last Saturday for its 102nd conseutive win.
Samuelson had 19 points while matching her career high of seven assists and just missing her career high with six steals. Temple's strength, its perimeter players, never got going. The Owls' four double-figure scorers coming in combined for 37 points against the Huskies on 13-for-48 (27.1 percent) shooting.
"Lou can help us like she did today defensively," Auriemma said. "That takes some of the pressure off of her offensively. You can just put somebody on Lou and just beat her up. A lot of people are going to try to do that like they did with Diana (Taurasi) and with Stewie. That's what happens."
And Williams became the 43rd member of UConn's 1,000-point club when she made a short jumper with 3:35 left in the third quarter. She finished with 15 points to put her career total at 1,003.
"It's special. It's special my name gets to be in the books again," Williams said. "I'm focused on other things but it's pretty cool."
UConn plays its final regular season home game Saturday against Memphis at Gampel Pavilion (SNY, 4 p.m.) and will honor its seniors Saniya Chong and Tierney Lawlor. Then there's a quick trip to Tampa for a matchup with South Florida at the Sun Dome Monday. The Huskies' postseason run begins Saturday, March 4, with an AAC tournament quarterfinal game at Mohegan Sun Arena.
The league's Player of the Year will be announced March 3. Who will it be?
The coaches have their work cut out for them.