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Nurse In A Good Place At The Right Time For Huskies By Rich Elliott

POSTED March 24, 2016
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By Rich Elliott

STORRS – The quest for perfection is picturesque at times. It is mesmerizing at others, with each of the key players that make up the machine that is the UConn women’s basketball team in sync on virtually every possession.

On the outside, the Huskies seem to be as flawless as their perfect record indicates as they inch closer to an NCAA record fourth straight national championship. But inside the confines of the Werth Family UConn Basketball Champions Center success does not come without a great deal of work and the ability to overcome personal obstacles.

Sophomore guard Kia Nurse underwent her own battle last month. Her focus was not in the right place in a team-first system. It was on scoring. And when she suffered through a scoreless outing at Tulane Feb. 3, her reaction was unexpected for a player wearing a UConn uniform.

``We’re trying to teach our players to kind of act your age,’’ UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. ``Like when you’re 15 don’t walk around and act like you’re 20. And when you’re 20 don’t act like you’re 15. So in that Tulane game she acted like a junior high kid. It was embarrassing. Because she shot the ball poorly she became a mess on the bench and everybody saw it. It’s not how you act at Connecticut. And I think it hit her pretty good.’’

Nurse was 0-for-6 from the field – all 3-pointers – in 25 minutes against the Green Wave that day. She was crying on the UConn bench.

It was just the second game in her career in which she failed to score or make a field goal. Nurse was 0-for-2 (0-for-1 3-pointers) against South Florida in The American tournament final March 9, 2015.

Nurse, though, quickly realized that her behavior was far from acceptable. She watched the game film on the flight home, learning that there were plenty of positives to be taken from the game despite her lack of scoring.

 Auriemma had a few words with her, too. A change needed to be made.

``The way that I responded coming off the court in that game was not appropriate at all and it wasn’t a testament to the program or the people who have helped me or myself,’’ Nurse said. ``We talked about that and how that had to change and it just fired me up. I was mad at myself because the thing is I work hard and for things to not go that way at all and be really bad it was really frustrating for me, obviously. You sit down, you reflect on it, obviously, and you’re like, `Well, that was terrible. I don’t want to happen ever again.’ Then you have to realize what you were thinking about was wrong.

``So I kind of flipped that switch and in practice I figured focus on the things that you do really well and then everything else will come. It was just a matter of flipping the switch on your focus. It was points for a while there and now it’s more assists, rebounds, steals. Those are like the first three things that I look at in the stat sheet.’’

The change Nurse and Auriemma were looking for has occurred. It culminated in the NCAA tournament opener against 16th-seeded Robert Morris as Nurse produced 14 points (5-for-7 FG), six assists, four steals and committed  zero turnovers in 27 minutes.

It was one of her best all-around performances of the season.

``There’s more to life than just making shots,’’ Auriemma said. ``Lots of people don’t make shots. How are you going to react to that and how you respond to that says lot about who you are and what your priorities are. So once we got that straightened out things changed like they always do. Once you get your priorities straight and once you see the big picture of why you’re here and what we’re trying to do then everything seems to fall into place for you. And it certainly has for her.’’

Nurse is averaging 9.4 points, 2.7 assists and 1.4 steals in a career-high 27.6 minutes in starting each of the first 34 games this season heading into Saturday’s match-up against fifth-seeded Mississippi State in the NCAA Bridgeport regional semifinals at Webster Bank Arena (11:30 a.m.; ESPN). She is tied for second on the team with 47 made 3-pointers and is third in steals and minutes and fourth in assists.

``Obviously, I talked to her,’’ UConn senior guard Moriah Jefferson said. ``She’s a tough kid and she really doesn’t need it from us. She knew exactly what it was. She wasn’t happy with the way she performed, by the way she acted. So she came out and she changed it.’’

The change has been evident over the last six games for Nurse. She is averaging 11.7 points on 58.1 percent shooting from the field (10-for-18 3-pointers), 1.7 assists and 1.2 steals and owns a 2.0 assist-to-turnover ratio in 28.3 minutes.

Auriemma labeled her ``a big X-factor’’ for the Huskies (34-0) during the NCAA tournament. Star senior Breanna Stewart said that Nurse is playing at a different level right now.

Nurse took it upon herself to change. The work that she put in to accomplish her goal is now paying dividends at the right time of the season.

``I think the whole season was kind of just up and down, a rollercoaster,’’ Nurse said. ``You’re going to go through that at some point in your college career. Mine is over with now. But it was always about there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. You’re going to get out of it. It’s just a matter of when you come out of it and how you come out if it. So now I’m way passed the tunnel out in the light and kind of just focusing on things I need to focus on. My mind’s in a really good place at this point and I’m having fun. And that’s the best part about the game. You get to scream and yell at something your teammates did incredibly well. It’s perfect.’’

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