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Record-Setting Performance By Nurse Leads UConn Past Syracuse, Into Sweet 16 (by Rich Elliott)

POSTED March 21, 2017
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By Rich Elliott

STORRS – UConn junior guard Kia Nurse is a determined individual. If one aspect of her game is not to her liking she will do what it takes to ensure that the necessary improvements are made.

Nurse missed the final four games of the regular season due to a stress reaction in her right ankle. She was completely shut down when it came to basketball activities during this stretch. Her shooting suffered.

In three games during The American tournament upon her return, Nurse shot 34.8 percent from the field (8-for-23) and was 2-for-10 from 3-point range in scoring a total of 20 points. Prior to the start of the NCAA tournament, she spent extra time shooting in an attempt to remedy the situation.

Again, hard work is paying dividends as she has been brilliant through the first two rounds for the top-ranked Huskies. Nurse tied an NCAA tournament single-game record Monday by making nine 3-pointers on 12 attempts and finishing with 29 points in a 94-64 victory over eighth-seeded Syracuse in the second round before 8,274 at Gampel Pavilion.

``Once you see one or two go in the net and you shoot it with confidence … Confidence is half the battle,’’ Nurse said. ``And I remember when I was a freshman and I didn’t really shoot it much, I remember Moriah Jefferson talking about how you just had to get in the gym and see it go in the net a couple times and then you could shoot it confidently. And that’s how she got her shot to that. And I felt like this week if I got in the gym and see a couple go through the net just shoot it confidently and if you’re open pop them in.’’

Purdue’s Courtney Moses also made nine 3-pointers against South Dakota State in the first round in 2012.

Nurse, who had six assists, scored 26 points and made eight 3-pointers in 20 minutes in the first half. Her previous career-high for 3-pointers had been six.

Nurse was 10-for-13 shooting overall.

``People think that if you shoot the ball well you played well,’’ UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. ``And Kia shot the ball better than well. She shot it amazingly well. But she played really well and that’s even more important.

``Kia’s performance … It just speaks for itself. It’s just one of those things that kids dream about.’’

UConn (34-0) will meet fourth-seeded UCLA (25-8) in the Bridgeport regional semifinals Saturday at Webster Bank Arena (2 p.m; ESPN). The Huskies, who extended their overall winning streak to 109 games, have advanced to the Sweet 16 for the 24th straight season dating back to a 74-71 loss to Louisville in the first round March 17, 1993.

Stanford currently holds the second longest active streak with 10 straight appearances.

Nurse delivered 24 points (8-for-10 FG; 6-for-7 3-pointers) in a 116-55 win over 16th-seeded Albany in the first round Saturday. She had 11 points and made three 3-pointers in the first quarter against Syracuse before adding 15 on five 3-pointers in the second quarter as the Huskies built a 57-29 lead at halftime.

``I could just see it before the ball even left her hands that it was going to go in,’’ UConn junior Gabby Williams said. ``You could just kind of see that confidence and look in her eyes. And we feed off of that. Then we all start to get excited and then other people start making plays because we all just start playing with this kind of energy.’’

The game was a rematch of UConn’s 82-51 win in the national championship game in Indianapolis last April. The Huskies have now defeated the Orange in 25 straight meetings.

``All credit goes to them,’’ Syracuse coach Quentin Hillsman said. ``They’re a very good basketball team and they haven’t won (109) in a row because they’re OK. They’ve won (109) in a row because they’re really, really good.’’

Williams added 23 points (9-for-13 FG), six rebounds, five assists, two blocks and two steals for UConn. Katie Lou Samuelson had 23 points, five rebounds and four assists, while Napheesa Collier produced 17 points (8-for-9 FG), seven rebounds, three assists, two blocks and three steals.

Saniya Chong had seven assists and two turnovers in 31 minutes for the Huskies in her final career game at Gampel Pavilion.

UConn shot 62.3 percent from the field (12-for-23 3-pointers) and had 30 assists on 33 made field goals. The Huskies had 30 assists on 31 field goals through the first three quarters, assisting on 26 straight baskets at one point.

Nurse collected one of those assists with 7:50 remaining in the third quarter. Presented with a wide-open look from beyond the arc, she instead fed Collier inside for a layup.

``Those are the plays that you have to make,’’ Nurse said. ``It might not have mattered at that point in the game, but somewhere down the stretch that could be a huge play. It might be a tight game, you have an open 3, make a decision and get the easy two. So I think if you make those decisions and they become habit now they’ll help you down the stretch.’’

The Huskies, who have recorded a team-record 64 assists combined over the last two games, have won a record 26 straight NCAA tournament games and 38 straight NCAA games at Gampel Pavilion.

Alexis Peterson led the Orange with 25 points (10-for-22 FG), five rebounds and four assists. Brittney Sykes added 15 points (6-for-15).

``What can I say … Those first three quarters I just thought we were about as good as we can be in a lot of the areas that you need to be good in this time of the year,’’ Auriemma said. ``You saw it and they did it. And I got a chance to see it and they had me shaking my head a couple times.’’

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