Women’s Basketball: Defense, Nurse-Williams connection fuel Huskies’ home-opener victory

UConn's Katie Lou Samuelson and Kia Nurse run over as Napheesa Collier helps Gabby Williams up after a made layup in the Huskies' 82-47 win over No. 20 California on Friday, Nov. 17 at Gampel Pavilion.    (Photo by Charlotte Lao, Associate Photo Editor/The Daily Campus)

UConn's Katie Lou Samuelson and Kia Nurse run over as Napheesa Collier helps Gabby Williams up after a made layup in the Huskies' 82-47 win over No. 20 California on Friday, Nov. 17 at Gampel Pavilion.    (Photo by Charlotte Lao, Associate Photo Editor/The Daily Campus)

STORRS – The UConn Huskies women’s basketball team came out to play in their season home opener against No. 20 Cal, blowing out the Bears 82-47 at Gampel Pavilion Friday night on the back of some great defense and the telepathic connection between seniors Gabby Williams and Kia Nurse.

The Huskies (2-0) didn’t have their best shooting night, finishing 45.5 percent from the field and just 30.8 percent from beyond the arc, but the defense and trademark transition offense were stellar for nearly the entire game.

“We wanna establish that (defense) as our identity, you know,” UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said. “That we feed off our defense, we create turnovers, we get out in transition and we’re hard to play against on the move. That’s who we are and that’s who we wanna be even more so.”

Auriemma’s wish for that defensive identity definitely came true Friday, as the Huskies were relentless on the fast break, led by seniors Gabby Williams and Kia Nurse.

At one point in the first quarter, UConn went on a 17-0 run in just over four minutes of action. In that stretch alone, the Huskies forced Cal into eight turnovers. The Bears finished with 11 turnovers in that first quarter, and UConn took advantage, scoring 13 points off those turnovers.

If you blinked, you probably missed a block or steal from Williams leading to a Nurse layup on the other end.

“I think me and Gabby have a great connection, especially in transition,” Nurse said. “The wind-up bounce pass is, like, I’m calling it one of her trademarks now at this point…Sometimes she puts it a little too far in front of me where I have to actually go go, but we have an understanding (that) if you put it out there, I promise you I’ll go and get it.”

Williams’ had a slightly different perspective of their fastbreak connection, maybe a little more playful, trying to see how far she could stretch Nurse in transition.

 “I’m strong enough to throw the bounce pass far and, honestly, Kia just runs so well for it that I know I just have to throw it ahead of the defense and that she’ll go get it,” Williams said. “Sometimes it’s kind of fun to just throw it and see if she can go get it, and she does every time.”

Although the game was well in hand by the time the second half began, the Huskies made sure to squash any signs of hope in the third quarter, outscoring Cal 22-3 and forcing them into 14 more turnovers, which UConn converted into 18 more points.

A big part of that was the defensive prowess of Nurse and Williams, who did an excellent job all night switching on and off the Bears’ star and number one scoring threat, Kristine Anigwe.

 “I think when you are able to play with people (like Gabby) for a long time and figure out their tendencies, maybe which side they like to force people…it’s easier for us to kinda get in there and execute a gameplan that was something we had talked about going into (the game),” Nurse said.

Auriemma said the versatility of his two seniors, Williams and Nurse, was especially useful when it came to shutting down Anigwe, but kept it simple in his praise of the Huskies’ leaders.

“It’s good to have Kia and Gabby as seniors,” Auriemma said.

Samuelson Stumbles

The only blemish on an otherwise great home opener for the Huskies was an injury to star guard/forward Katie Lou Samuelson. Samuelson went down awkwardly in the second quarter.

She got up and tried to walk it off, but realized she couldn’t go on. Samuelson limped to the locker room and did not return to the game in the second half. After the game, Auriemma said Samuelson was diagnosed with a midfoot sprain and would undergo X-Rays and other tests Saturday to confirm nothing was broken.

“First things first, I just wanted to make sure (Samuelson) was good and taken care of,” Williams said. “And after that, it’s kind of the next guy up. I mentioned that in the locker room that, when we sub guys in, that we can’t have a drop off. The guys on the bench have to be watching what’s going on so that, when they came in, we’re just adding instead of losing.”

Lobo Night

In a pre-game ceremony on “Lobo Night,” UConn women’s basketball legend Rebecca Lobo was honored for her induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

A Hall of Fame banner in Lobo’s name was revealed on the Gampel walls right next to Auriemma’s Hall of Fame banner from 2006. Lobo gave a short speech to thank all the people that got her to this point, including her coaches, teammates, family and fans.

“The fans here are just special, and there has to be some (here) who were coming to games back in 1995,” Lobo said. “I love it.”

Coach Auriemma was effusive in his praise for Lobo, as a player and as a person.

“(Lobo) is just a unique woman that has qualities that you don’t find very often in people,” Auriemma said. “A lot of people have some of Rebecca’s qualities. Very, very, very few of any people that I’ve ever met have all the qualities that Rebecca has.”

“She’s got every single box checked of what you want to accomplish in life. Pretty good,” Auriemma said.


Chris Hanna is the associate sports editor for The Daily Campus, covering women's basketball and football. He can be reached via email at christopher.hanna@uconn.edu. He tweets @realchrishanna.