Women's Basketball: Nurse shines as Huskies prep for South Carolina

Kia Nurse (11) celebrate a milestone performance at Gampel Pavilion on Saturday. Nurse scored a career-high 20 points in UConn's 92-46 rout of ECU. (Bailey Wright/The Daily Campus)

After a scoreless outing in the UConn women’s basketball team’s 96-38 win over Tulane, Kia Nurse was looking to return to form with a strong performance against East Carolina.

“[I was] frustrated, just with myself and things were going wrong,” Nurse said about her performance against Tulane. “Obviously wasn’t focusing on the proper things and kind of just bounced back from that today.”

Nurse bounced back and more Saturday afternoon, leading the Huskies with a career-high 20 points as UConn defeated the Pirates 92-46 for their eighth-straight victory by more than 40 points. It marked the first time the Hamilton, Ontario native reached double-digits since a 16-point effort in the Huskies’ win over South Florida on Jan. 10.

“I think I was just more loose today in warm-up and not overthinking anything,” Nurse said. “When I don’t think as much, I always play better.”

The sophomore guard paced the Huskies from the start, scoring five of UConn’s first 14 points as they jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. After struggling from beyond the arc against Tulane, Nurse led the Huskies with four made three-pointers and added four assists and two steals.

(Left to right) Breanna Stewart, Kia Nurse, Gabby Williams, Napheesa Collier and Geno Auriemma watch as the walk-ons get in on the action. (Bailey Wright/The Daily Campus)

“I wasn’t surprised that Kia made a bunch of plays today,” UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said. “She plays really hard everyday, she’s a competitive kid, she has a certain intensity level about her every game.”

Nurse’s resurgence couldn’t have come at a better time.  Monday night, the Huskies travel to South Carolina to take on the No. 2 Gamecocks, and with Nurse back to form and Morgan Tuck having two games under her belt since sitting out due to knee pain, UConn is more ready than ever to add another chapter in the budding rivalry between the two schools.

With such an important game looming, it would be easy to look past an East Carolina team that has struggled all season. Instead, the Huskies focused and put together a strong performance, tying up some loose ends in preparation for the Gamecocks.

“I think the game today was a good test for [South Carolina] because these guys were really physical, really aggressive on the boards,” Moriah Jefferson said. “It gave us a test for what we’re going to get on Monday.”

East Carolina’s physicality down low served as a preview for what the Huskies’ front court will be seeing Monday night as they go up against A’ja Wilson and Tiffany Coates. While UConn handled the physicality in the post from the Pirates with ease with 44 points in the paint, Wilson and Coates will be an even bigger challenge.

“They’re probably going to be the hardest team that we’ve played this year to defend in the lane. No one else has that combination of size and strength,” Auriemma said of Wilson and Coates.

The Huskies also stepped up their three-point defense, which has been one of their most glaring weaknesses this season. UConn entered the game allowing opponents to shoot 32.1 percent from beyond the arc, which ranked 232nd in the NCAA.

Against the Pirates, UConn held East Carolina to just 20 percent from the three-point line on 2-10 shooting. The two made three-pointers for the Pirates were the least a team has made against UConn since Chattanooga made two on Nov. 30.


Dan Madigan is the associate sports editor for The Daily Campus, covering women's basketball. He can be reached via email at daniel.madigan@uconn.edu. He tweets @DMad1433.