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story.lead_photo.caption UALR’s Sharde Collins is averaging 15.7 points per game, including 21.3 in nine Sun Belt Conference games. - Photo by Stephen B. Thornton

Sharde' Collins is getting used to her leading role.

The senior guard on the UALR women's basketball team enters today's game against Appalachian State as the Sun Belt Conference's top scorer in league games at 21.3 points per game, and she is shooting 48.4 percent. Her per season average of 15.7 points is a career-high.

Coach Joe Foley said she's the biggest reason a suddenly potent Trojans' offense has led them to the top of the Sun Belt standings.

"It's beyond what I've ever thought I could do," said Collins, who averaged 5.7 points and shot 38.0 percent in her first three years. "I've never been the main player on a team. It's just a new journey."

Improved confidence sparked by the decision to be a more deliberate shooter is the biggest reason the surge, Collins said. After years of harping from Foley to shoot more, Collins finally has, averaging more than 17 shots in Sun Belt games.

What finally got through to her? Disappointing games this season against Texas A&M and at LSU got her attention.

Collins was held to 2 points on 1-of-7 shooting in a 55-37 loss to Texas A&M on Nov. 23. She was held to 1 point on 0-of-7 shooting in a Dec. 21 loss at LSU.

"They shut me down," she said. "And I felt like no team should be able to do that."

No team has since. She scored 22 points in UALR's Sun Belt Conference opener against Louisiana-Lafayette on Dec. 29 and has scored 21 or more in five of the past six games, including a career-high 29 points against South Alabama. It's the type of player Foley always thought Collins could be when he recruited her to follow Taylor Gault, UALR's second all-time leading scorer, as the Trojans' main shooting threat.

It just took longer than expected.

"That's just part of it," Foley said. "You just don't ever know what kid is going to end up maturing. When they do, it's a lot more fun."

A lifetime playing alongside higher-scoring guards has led to Collins' passive demeanor, she said. At Liberty-Elau High School in Texarkana, Texas, she played with Imani Wright, a high school All-American who signed at Baylor and is now at Florida State.

"I was Robin and she was Batman," Collins said.

The situation was similar when she got to UALR, where Gault was in the middle of eligibility. Collins came off the bench her first two seasons -- she almost redshirted as a sophomore before Foley decided to use her in a nonconference game -- and struggled as a junior in her first year as a starter, shooting 36.5 percent and averaging 9.7 points.

But this conference season has nourished Collins' confidence, and an insistence from her coaches and teammates to shoot more has boosted her comfort. Foley compares her favorably with Gault, who scored 1,973 points and led UALR to two NCAA Tournament appearances.

Collins isn't the defender or passer Gault was, Foley said, but her shot is just as effective.

"It was strictly confidence," Foley said. "She's finally got her confidence, and now she believes she can do it. Before, she just wondered if she could do it. Now, she believes she can do it."

It's helped UALR put up offensive numbers that surpass the school's best teams. The Trojans are averaging 76.4 points against league foes and shooting 50.3 percent. Both statistics surpass all four teams that reached the NCAA Tournament, including the 2010 and 2015 teams that won first-round games.

UALR has scored 71 or more points eight games in a row, a school record, and its 92 points in a victory over Louisiana-Monroe was its most against a Division I team.

Foley said his team's belief in Collins is a major factor.

"Our kids know that Sharde' can get a shot off on her own, and we don't have to struggle like we did last year," Foley said. "She's like Gault in that way. She could take it by the horns if things are going wrong. When you have a player of that caliber, it really helps."

Sports on 02/02/2017

Print Headline: UALR's Collins exceeds imagination

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