Nurse finds her range as Huskies finish perfect regular season with win over USF.
STORRS: With freshman Katie Lou Samuelson in foul trouble six minutes into the second quarter, the University of Connecticut Huskies were left looking for another shooter as they battled a team that came to town with an upset in mind.
The University of South Florida (21-8, 14-4), the second ranked team in the American Athletic Conference, was pushing the number one team in the country as they have not been pushed all season and held a 25-24 lead at the half.
It marked the first time the Huskies had trailed at the break since March 30, 2015 in the Albany Regionals when they trailed a hot shooting Dayton team by a 44-43 margin at the half.
Not much was working for the home team and truth be told, not much was working for the visitors either as the teams shot a horrific 28.1 percent in the opening 20 minutes,
Head coach Geno Auriemma needed somebody to step up and help pick up the slack on the offensive end and with Samuelson, the recent offensive power forced to the bench with those three fouls, that someone was sophomore Kia Nurse.
Nurse has been a bit of an enigma this season, struggling at times with her confidence when her shot was not falling or other aspects of her game where not in sync.
At halftime, Auriemma had, let’s say, a conversation with his second year guard that involved what he called multiple languages (Canadian was one, but we’re not real sure he actually speaks the lingo) in order to awaken a very talented player who sometimes goes under the radar.
“He knows how to fire me up,” Nurse said, “Obviously I was not happy with myself and they were not happy with me so it was kind of a challenge to step up in the second half and see what I could do.”
Nurse landed a pair of long three pointers that helped the home team right the offensive ship in a 32-14 third quarter that redirected a 25-24 deficit into a 56-39 lead after three in route to a 79-59 win.
The Huskies complete their third straight undefeated season in the AAC and their eighth undefeated regular season in program history and hold a 29-0 overall record.
The Hamilton, Ontario native seems to get a little lost in the mix at times, what with all the All-Americans who roam the hardwood with her every night.
Most nights the Huskies don’t need Nurse to do a ton, it is sure to be a different story next year when the team loses Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson and maybe even Morgan Tuck.
But after an opening half that saw both teams shoot an astounding 9 for 32 from the field, some soul searching was called for by the team that was looking for another perfect regular season.
“When we sat down as a team at halftime,” Nurse said, “We were not happy with the performance we had put out there in the first half. It was a matter of coming out and locking down on defense.”
The Huskies came out on a 6-0 run from the break, two buckets by Stewart sandwiched around a Samuelson jumper that was fueled by a Nurse block gave UConn the lead for good.
What impressed the head coach the most was not an offensive play but a defensive one by Nurse that kept a possession alive during that run in the third.
“I thought the play that Kia made in keeping the ball alive off a missed shot was key,” Auriemma said, “Then after that, she made her next shot (a three).”
For a player that sometimes struggles with her confidence, making shots and getting into a rhythm is critical.
Too often, Nurse is that player who tends to think more than she needs to on the court instead of letting her natural instincts take over.
Monday marked just the second time in her last 15 games that she scored in double figures, she finished with 15 on 5 of 8 shooting, 4 of 7 from three point range.
Nurse and the Huskies get a couple of days off before starting the AAC tournament on Saturday at Mohegan Sun in the quarter finals.
Its March ladies and gentleman, the intensity is about to go up. It’s a one and done situation in each of the next two rounds.
Auriemma is happy with how his team has played in big spots this season. They held off tough challenges from Notre Dame, DePaul and Maryland before Monday night’s battle with USF.
“Generally speaking,” Auriemma said, “When we have to play great, we do but just because we have done it, doesn’t mean we are going to do it again.”
NOTES: They came in a 34.5 point underdog, these University of South Florida Bulls but had other ideas in mind and as you know, actual Bulls can’t read nor do they check the Vegas odds.
….Could anybody shoot any worse than the two teams did in the first half when they shot a combined 18-64 from the floor?
….The Huskies continue to be ranked first in eight national categories including points allowed, points scored, assists to turnover ratio, assists, blocks, field goal percentage, defensive field goal percentage, free throw percentage, scoring margin.
….Here’s where the Huskies stand on their drive for their 11th National Championship.
29-0, 18-0 in the American in the Athletic Conference that included a third straight AAC regular season title.
….The three seniors, Breanna Stewart, Morgan Tuck and Moriah Jefferson are now just nine wins away from being the all-time leading class in the grand history of the University with 151 wins.