Nurse arrives on the biggest stage.
TAMPA: It’s more than fair to say that freshman Kia Nurse arrived on Tuesday night and the University of Connecticut is really glad she did.
The Hamilton, Ontario native didn’t light up the stat sheet (nine points, three rebounds), but it was when she hit the shots that her teammates will remember as critical to their taking home their third consecutive National Championship with a 63-53 win over Notre Dame.
After a shaky first half, it was the first-year player that allowed the Huskies to keep a hard Fighting Irish team from making a second half run of their own after UConn held a 31-23 lead at the half.
It’s long been said that the first five minutes of the second half against any team are some of the most important moments in any game, and, after Michaela Mabrey drained a three-pointer for Notre Dame to cut the lead to five, Nurse struck.
Off a missed shot, Nurse grabbed the rebounded and headed out to the races, looking for the bucket and contact.
“I think a couple of times I felt like I had an opening there,” Nurse said. “I just took it to the hoop looking for contact, probably should have finished a little better, but that happens.”
Nurse converted on both free throws to push the lead back to seven, and after a conventional three-point play put the Huskies into double-digit land for the first time, Nurse hit a jumper that stretched the lead to a dozen, causing Fighting Irish coach Muffet McGraw to take a timeout.
Being the fifth wheel on a tracker trailer-sized offense can be a daunting task for a first-year player, even one who has had Canadian National Team experience. This is the big stage, the Broadway show of women’s college basketball and Nurse may have just cemented herself into the fiber of the team for next year.
“She definitely did arrive,” Most Outstanding Player Breanna Stewart said. “You know, she arrived before, but then it seemed like the season might have caught up with her a little bit. She got a little nervous, that kind of thing. Big players show up in big moments and I know coach has said that a lot, but Kia is a player who played on a lot of big stages she used that and showed that tonight.”
Her fellow guard took notice as well. First in a shocked way, then in a celebratory one within seconds.
“Oh man,” her fellow guard Moriah Jefferson said, “she hit the biggest three from the corner and in my mind of was thinking, ‘man what is she doing?’ but wow. As a freshman to step up and to play the way she did tonight, I couldn’t be more proud of her. She played an amazing game.”
Nurse could not have picked more clutch time to hit that long three after the never-say-die Irish closed the gap to five again after Brianna Turner (14 second half points) scored on four consecutive possessions with just under 10 minutes to play.
The trey kept the wolves from the door and after Jefferson and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis went on a 5-0 run, this one was in the books.
“She came up big for us, she really did,” Morgan Tuck said. “She didn’t play like a freshman. She played like someone who has played in the game and been here before.”