STORRS, Conn. -- Only twice out of 38 games during her freshman year with the University of Connecticut women's basketball team did Napheesa Collier play at least 30 minutes.
As a sophomore, the only things that keep her off the floor are fouls and lopsided scores. The 29.5 minutes per game that the 6-foot-1 forward plays is third on the top-ranked Huskies behind Kia Nurse (32.6) and Katie Lou Samuelson (31.5).
If the St. Peters, Missouri native plays 33 minutes Sunday against American Athletic Conference foe Tulsa at Gampel Pavilion (SNY, 1 p.m.), she'll match her minutes total from a season ago in just 22 games.
Collier is not complaining. She still has plenty of gas in the tank.
"I would rather be sore after playing a lot of minutes than fresh from sitting there and watching," Collier said. "I am playing a lot more minutes, but I feel really good."
And playing even better.
"It's confidence," Collier said. "I worked really hard over the summer to try to get better at things and I'm working hard in practice to keep it going. Just knowing you put in the work and having been here last year to know what to expect has helped a lot in elevating my game."
Collier averaged 6.8 points and 5.2 rebounds in 17.2 minutes per game to help the Huskies capture their fourth consecutive national championship a year ago. She also played the whole season with a torn labrum in her right hip that she had surgery to repair two weeks after the final win over Syracuse.
With her seventh double-double of the year at Temple on Wednesday night, Collier is third in the AAC in scoring (19.1), sixth in rebounds (8.3), seventh in steals (2.0) and first in blocked shots (1.8) and field-goal percentage (67.1) entering Saturday's action.
"She was there to clean up everything we missed. If there was anything to get, she got it for us," Samuelson said.
If there's a more improved player in the league -- or anywhere in the country -- than Collier, the Huskies haven't seen her.
And All-American candidates cannot be discussed without Collier being in that mix.
"I want to help the team in any way I can," Collier said. "Anyone on our team can be the leading scorer any night. If the team needs me that night, I will be there. If they just need me to get rebounds while Kia gets 33 points, I'm just happy to do whatever."
Collier had 25 points, 10 rebounds, four blocked shots and three steals as UConn (21-0 overall, 9-0 AAC) steamrolled past Temple in the first half, en route to a convincing 97-69 win at the Liacouras Center in Philadelphia. She was 12-for-14 shooting from the floor with both of her misses coming from behind the arc.
A number of her baskets came in transition just from her running the floor harder than anyone else. On one play, she blocked a shot and ended up taking an outlet pass from Natalie Butler for a layup. Right before the halftime buzzer, Butler blocked a shot and Collier took possession. Her hustle led to a 2-on-1 break with Saniya Chong with Chong's lob pass to Collier setting up another hoop.
Collier's inspiration for those type of plays is teammate Gabby Williams.
"I try to be like Gabby every game," Collier said. "She always fills the stat sheet and I want to do that. I think it's admirable what she does every game. It makes me want to do that, because I know she is working so hard. Why should I not be working as hard as she is?"
But there's a long way to go. If the Huskies have their way, they will play 16 more games following Sunday's action.
Collier is using her experience from a year ago to help her stay fresh for what could be another two months of the season.
"Getting in that cold tub is really important, but also making sure that I take advantage of the days off that we do get," Collier said. "They're there for a reason. You have to let your body heal and regenerate after a game or practice."
What does she do on her off days now compared to last year?
"I think I just go right back to bed," Collier said with a laugh.
Whatever she's done, it's working.
UConn will go for its 97th consecutive win against Tulsa. The Huskies defeated the Golden Hurricane 98-58 on Jan. 17 in Tulsa behind Samuelson (career high 34 points), Collier (21 points, 13 rebounds), and Williams (13 points, 9 rebounds, 8 assists).
Collier will look to notch a career best third straight double-double. She's had two in a row two other times this season.
"I want to keep working on my game and being consistent," Collier said. "These last two, three games I've not been. Being consistent will keep our team on the same page.
DANGERFIELD HOPING TO STEP UP
Crystal Dangerfield played for the first time since Jan. 10 Wednesday night at Temple. She had been sidelined for five games due to a stress reaction in her left foot. In 18 minutes total over four separate approximately four-minute stretches, she had six points.
"There was a time I remember getting winded, but I don't think I was in there long enough to get like completely winded," Dangerfield said. "For the most part my foot feels better. There are times it flares up with certain cuts, but other than that it feels fine."
The Huskies need Dangerfield not only for the added depth but because of her talent. The freshman guard, though, hasn't scored in double figures since doing it back-to-back games against Baylor and LSU in November.
And she has not come close to replicating her performance in the 72-61 win over Baylor on Nov. 17 when she had 19 points and five assists in 30 minutes.
UConn coach Geno Auriemma was blunt to why that's been the case.
"She doesn't work hard at it, plain and simple," he said. "If she works really, really hard then she is a factor every night. But Crystal is used to doing it a certain way that allowed her to get away with a lot of that stuff in high school, and she's finding out that doesn't work necessarily in college. But everybody is different and progress at their own rate."
Dangerfield does hope now that she's healthy again that she'll improve with each game. She'll get a chance to take a step forward Sunday.
"I just want to get back into a rhythm," Dangerfield said, "try and get some stops on defense that turn into quick buckets on offense, get some passes in, score and just go play some basketball."