To the surprise of many, Kia Nurse has struggled early on in her junior season. After being named the American Athletic Conference Preseason Player of the Year, Nurse had not had the success early this season that many expected, failing to find a scoring rhythm outside of a 15-point performance Nov. 20 against LSU and averaging 9.8 points per game on just 30 percent shooting from the field.
“Just trying too hard to make things happen,” Nurse said. “I’m used to expectations and challenges and those kind of things. I think just coming out into the beginning of the season, shots weren’t really falling, some of the shots I was taking weren’t good shots and I understood that. I couldn’t find kind of the easy [shots] that I usually get.”
Of course, these struggles aren’t due to a lack of talent. Few players in the NCAA are good enough to play for their country while in college like Nurse did for Canada at the 2016 Summer Olympics. Even fewer have two national championships under their belt. So when a player of Nurse’s caliber struggles, it’s not a matter of if, but when they will break out for a big game.
Nurse’s time came Thursday night, scoring a career-high 33 points in only three quarters to lead No. 2 UConn (6-0) past No. 15 DePaul in a 91-46 blowout at Gampel Pavilion.
“The numbers of many shots she made, that’s easy, but the other part is that she put herself in really good situations where she could make easy plays and take easy shots,” head coach Geno Auriemma said of Nurse. “She’s been trying so hard to put points on the board that she’s been fighting herself more than anything else.”
The Hamilton, Ontario native scored early and often to lead the way for the Huskies in the first quarter, scoring six points on three-straight fast-break layups. From there on out, Nurse simply couldn’t miss, hitting from beyond the arc and finishing on the fast break to finish the first quarter with 19 of UConn’s 37 points on 7-7 shooting from the field. The Huskies’ 37 points were the most they have scored in a first quarter since dropping 41 on Robert Morris in the first round of last year’s NCAA tournament.
“Coming out, having those shots and having them go early was great,” Nurse said. “After that, the game was just the full rhythm, staying in it and making sure that we got going.”
Nurse stayed perfect for nearly the entire second quarter with yet another layup and 3-pointer for 24 points, passing her previous career high of 22 against Creighton during the 2014-15 season. Her first miss of the night came in the first half’s final seconds as she missed a corner 3-pointer as time expired.
After a 3-pointer to open up her third quarter scoring, Nurse became UConn’s first 30-point scorer since March 28, 2015 after an old-fashioned three-point play while finishing a layup in traffic. She’d end her night with a 3-pointer to give her six made threes on the day, a new career high. The 33 point-performance was the most by a Husky since Breanna Stewart scored 37 against Temple in 2014.
While Nurse certainly found her offensive groove against the Blue Demons, she didn’t necessarily focus on putting the ball in the basket before tip-off. Instead, it was all about the little things. The scoring and energy Nurse is known to bring followed soon after, and her teammates took notice.
“The way she was cutting, the way she was running today, the way she was playing defense got everybody else going,” UConn forward Gabby Williams said of Nurse. “She had 30 points and she’s still diving for loose balls and stuff and that’s motivation for all of us to work just as hard as she is.”