TAMPA, Fla. -- There is nothing Napheesa Collier would rather do than play basketball.
Over the last several years -- between her high school and college seasons and her offseasons playing either AAU or for her country -- her second home was a basketball court.
But after helping the University of Connecticut win an unprecedented fourth consecutive national championship a year ago, the perpetual motion stopped. Last April 22, Collier had surgery at the UConn Health Center in Farmington to repair a torn labrum in her right hip. The injury originally occurred during individual workouts in the preseason.
Not only did the successful surgery get her back to 100 percent physically, it may have been the break she needed -- lasting about three months -- that would allow her to take her game to another level and emerge as an All-American and conference Player of the Year candidate.
"It was helpful because it gave me a chance to work on my game," Collier said. "I didn't have to play in games. And my trainer (Alex Bazzell from Pure Sweat Basketball in St. Charles, Missouri) has helped me tremendously. I wouldn't be where I am without him."
And the Huskies wouldn't be where they are without her.
Collier had a career high 39 points to go along with 12 rebounds and four blocked shots Monday night as No. 1 UConn completed its ninth unbeaten regular season and fourth straight American Athletic Conference perfect regular season by rolling past South Florida 96-68 before a pro-UConn crowd of 5,948 at the Sun Dome.
"No one thought we would be here," Collier said. "I'm proud of how this team has grown."
Gabby Williams added 18 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and three steals for the Huskies (29-0 overall, 16-0 ACC) as their NCAA record winning streak reached 104. Katie Lou Samuelson finished with 16 points joining UConn's 1,000-point club. Crystal Dangerfield contributed 12 points along with nine assists and no turnovers.
But Monday night belonged to Collier. The St. Peters, Missouri, native was 15-for-19 from the floor and recorded her seventh double-double in the last 10 games. Her previous best was 31 points against Temple last Wednesday. She watched the final 4:22 from the bench after nailing a 3-pointer 11 seconds earlier.
Collier's point total matched the fourth highest in program history. Nykesha Sales holds the school record of 46 points against Stanford on Dec. 21, 1997, in Lakeland, Florida. Maya Moore had 41 points against Florida State at the XL Center in Hartford on Dec. 21, 2010, when the Huskies won their 89th consecutive game of their 90-game winning streak and 40 points against Syracuse on Jan. 17, 2009. Kerry Bascom put up 39 points against Toledo in a NCAA tournament second-round game at Gampel Pavilion on March 16, 1991, and Svetlana Abrosimova had 39 points against UCLA on Nov. 17, 1998 at Pauley Pavilion.
"It feels really good and I was really excited and my team was really happy for me," Collier said. "It was fun going into the locker room."
For those scoring at home, in the Huskies' win at the Sun Dome her freshman year, she had all of two points in 14 minutes and took just two shots.
Collier will head into the postseason second in the AAC in scoring (20.4), third in rebounds (9.0), and first in field-goal percentage (68.6) and blocked shots (1.9). She would also be among the best 3-point shooters (40.5 percent) and in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.4) if she qualified for the league leaders in those categories. She has scored in double figures in 26 consecutive games with her only miss on the year coming when she fouled at LSU on Nov. 20.
"I'm hesitating less," Collier said. "We've been talking about how I need to; if I'm open, shoot it. If anyone is open, shoot it. I'm trying to take that hesitation out."
League officials had no hesitation in naming Collier the AAC Player of the Week Tuesday for a league-leading fourth time this season as she averaged 29.7 points on 80.4 percent shooting, 10.3 rebounds and 3.3 blocked shots in wins over Temple, Memphis, and USF.
And she seems to be getting stronger even though she has played 219 minutes more than last year with a maximum of nine games remaining.
"Our trainer, Amanda Kimball, does a great job knowing when we need recovery, when we need to lift," Collier said. "I credit her a lot in keeping us healthy and keeping our bodies in game-ready shape."
There was only one disappointment Monday night for Collier. There was a plane waiting for the Huskies to take them back to Bradley International Airport so they could get to class Tuesday morning. The high temperature here Monday was 80 degrees.
"I wish we could stay here another two weeks and go to the beach and relax," Collier said with a smile.
They will get two days off. The Huskies will return to practice Thursday and begin postseason play Saturday at 2 p.m. when it faces Memphis or Tulsa in an AAC tournament quarterfinal game at Mohegan Sun Arena.
Named to the league's weekly honor roll Tuesday were Central Florida's Zykira Lewis, East Carolina's Bre McDonald, Memphis, Taylor Williams, USF's Kitija Laksa, and Temple's Alliya Butts. Houston guard Jasmyne Harris was the Freshman of the Week.
AMERICAN ATHLETIC CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT
(at Mohegan Sun Arena)
FRIDAY'S FIRST-ROUND GAMES
Game 1: No. 9 Tulsa vs. No. 8 Memphis, 4 p.m.
Game 2: No. 10 Houston vs. No. 7 Cincinnati, 6 p.m.
Game 3: No. 11 East Carolina vs. No. 6 SMU
Game 4: No. 5 Tulane vs. No. 4 Central Florida, noon
Game 5: Game 1 winner vs. No. 1 UConn, 2 p.m.
Game 6: Game 2 winner vs. No. 2 Temple, 6 p.m.
Game 7: Game 3 winner vs. No. 3. South Florida, 8 p.m.
Game 8: Game 4 winner vs. Game 5 winner, 5 p.m.
Game 9: Game 6 winner vs. Game 7 winner, 7:30 p.m.
MONDAY'S CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
Game 10: Game 8 winner vs. Game 9 winner, 7 p.m.
Note: Game 10 winner receives AAC's automatic bid to NCAA tournament