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UConn women roll over Tulsa in AAC quarters - By William S. Paxton

POSTED March 04, 2017
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By William S. Paxton

UNCASVILLE – Kia Nurse has been a fixture on the UConn bench for the last two weeks, but the junior guard was not a content spectator.

But with the big three of Napheesa Collier, Katie Lou Samuelson and Gabby Williams doing the heavy lift, Nurse eased back into the lineup in UConn’s 105-57 drubbing of No. 9 Tulsa in the quarterfinals of the American Athletic Conference Tournament at Mohegan Sun Arena.

“Today was a lot of fun, the ability to get back and do a lot of different things was a good time,” said Nurse, who had no plans to take it easy in her 15 minutes on the court. “No, because if you baby it you’re screwed. I was trying not to baby it in any way.”

In the process of winning their 105th straight game, the Huskies (30-0) also posted their 12th consecutive 30-win season. UConn advances to play No. 4 UCF (20-9), which beat Tulane 61-57 earlier in the day, in Sunday’s semifinals. Tip-off is 5 p.m.

“Man, that’s a lot of wins, 30,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “If you get a team to 30 wins everybody says ‘wow, they had a great year. Wow, they had a great team that year.’ …

“I think the number that is impressive is we have been able to do it 20 out of the last 22 years, and in the end, that means you have a great program, not just a great team that pops up once or a couple years,” he added. “But I’m still pissed at the two years we didn’t do it. We had a couple issues those two years and I’m still mad at those guys.”

Nurse was the lone starter to not finish in double figures scoring with only two points. Collier led the way with 24 points, Samuelson had 19, Williams 17 and Saniya Chong added 10. Crystal Dangerfield, who filled in when Nurse was out, came off the bench for 11 points and seven assists, while Natalie Butler added 13 points.

UConn finished with 27 assists and just five turnovers.

Erika Wakefield led Tulsa (10-21) with 15 points.

“How did she look? She looked Ok,” Auriemma said of Nurse. “When you haven’t played in a long time that’s how you’re going to look, you look OK. She hasn’t played in a long time and she hasn’t practiced either.

Nurse returned to action after missing four games with a stress reaction in her right ankle and only started practicing Friday. She suffered the injury in practice on Jan. 31, but aggravated it again in the Feb. 13 win over South Carolina and was in a walking boot for two weeks.

 “She did Ok and she’ll play a lot better tomorrow,” Auriemma added.

While Nurse was out, Dangerfield picked up some valuable minutes and that figures to help the Huskies as they pursue their fifth straight national championship.

“She got a chance to play a lot of minutes and didn’t really have a choice,” Auriemma said. “We really couldn’t take her out, so she knew she had to play and she had to play well.

“Even at practice she’s been more involved and doing more, so I think the last week-and-a-half, two weeks, Crystal has made huge strides.”

Williams scored 19 seconds into the game on a layup, with an assist from Nurse, and it was all UConn from there.

“It was good to have our floor general back on the floor,” Wiliams said. “She looked (good) as far as being that guy we lean on and she took over.”

Collier scored 18 points, while Williams and Samuelson each added 13 in the opening half as the Huskies shot 60.6 percent (20-for-33) from the field to lead 58-24. UConn shot 62.3 for the game (38-for-61) and 20-for-20 at the foul line.

Tulsa hung around early, with Kendrian Elliott scoring on a layup with 4:53 left in the first period to cut UConn’s lead to 8-7. The Huskies outscored the Golden Hurricanes 17-5 the rest of the quarter to lead 25-12.

NOTES: Collier and Samuelson, who shared AAC Player of the Year honors, along with Williams are on the ballot for the John R. Wooden Award, which is given to the most outstanding player in the nation at the end of the season. … A host of Huskies were honored before the game with awards from the regular season. In addition to Collier and Samuelson receiving co-player of the year, Williams was name the AAC’s Defensive Player of the Year. All three players were named to the all-conference first team, while Nurse received second-team honors and Chong was on the third team. Dangerfield was chosen to the all-freshmen team. Auriemma shared coach of the year with Temple’s Tonya Cardoza.

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