Analysis: Nurse and Williams' steady presence powers UConn past Albany

UConn's Kia Nurse smiles while looking to pass during UConn's 116-55 win over Albany on Saturday afternoon at Gampel Pavilion in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Nurse scored 24 points for the Huskies, shooting 8-for-10 from the field and 6-for-7 from three-point range. (Jackson Haigis/The Daily Campus)

Often overshadowed by the sophomore pair of Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson, the junior duo of Kia Nurse and Gabby Williams combined for 44 points and shined in the 61-point blowout over No. 16 seed Albany. Williams stuffed the stat sheet as she scored 20 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, dished out six assists and recorded five steals while Nurse tied her career- high with six 3-pointers en route to a 24-point performance in the 116-55 win.

“When Kia gets it going from the perimeter she makes everything,” UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said.  “Between the confidence she provides when she is on a roll and her toughness, we are able to defend most guards when she is in the game, which is not always the case when she is not in the game.”

Both Williams and Nurse both helped the No. 1 overall seed Huskies get off on the right foot as Nurse was able to connect on all three of her first quarter shot attempts, including two 3-pointers, while Williams had nine points and two steals in the opening quarter. UConn led at the end of the first 37-18 as Nurse was able to provide the Huskies with offensive firepower while Williams was able to pressure seniors Imani Tate and Jessica Féquière into taking difficult shots.

 “She’s our floor general and we depend on her to make sure our offense is flowing and when things aren’t going right she is the one to calm us down and make sure that we are doing what we are supposed to be doing,” Williams said about her teammate Kia Nurse.

Nurse had a quieter second quarter, sitting for the majority of play but Williams kept her foot on the gas, finishing the first half with 16 points, five rebounds, four steals and four assists in 17 minutes of action.

In the second half and especially in the fourth quarter when the game was out of reach, both Williams and Nurse did not see heavy minutes as Williams finished with 27 total minutes and Nurse finished with 24 minutes. This was the most minutes played by Nurse since the South Carolina game on Feb. 13, as she is still working her way back from her right ankle injury.

“She [Nurse] is a good player, it’s too bad she wasn’t hobbling tonight because she was really good out there” joked Albany head coach Joanna Bernabei-McNamee. “With her they are firing on all cylinders and when Connecticut is doing that they are a tough opponent for anyone in the country.”

Williams with her 20 points and 10 rebounds recorded her 11th double-double of the season and 20th of her career, as she also finished 10-11 from the line, which are both career highs for the junior. She was able to establish an offensive presence for UConn on the boards and help the Huskies dominate the Great Danes by a margin of 52-18 in the paint.

“Williams has to be maybe one of the most athletic players ever,” commented Bernabei-McNamee. “Some of those rebounds she grabbed were very phenomenal, her legs are like springs, she just gets up and rises above other players.”

Nurse with her 24 points on 8-10 shooting finished with her second highest point total and field goals made this season as this was her best performance since her career night against DePaul on Dec. 1. In comparison to her other teammates, Nurse is not known as a deep ball threat but on the season has now made an impressive 57 threes on 42.8 percent shooting.

“The option is to shoot it when you are open and if you are not you pass it, that’s how we kind of think about it,” said Nurse. “When I get hot I do not think as much.”

Both juniors in today’s game recorded their NCAA tournament career highs in points while Williams had her tournament high in steals, assists and minutes played. Nurse has started in every NCAA tournament game during her UConn career and Williams started in the National Championship last season against Syracuse.


Matt Kren is a staff writer for The Daily Campus, covering women’s basketball. He can be reached via email at matthew.kren@uconn.edu.