UNCASVILLE— After a four-game absence due to a right ankle injury, Kia Nurse made her return to the UConn lineup just in time for the Huskies’ American Athletic Conference Tournament quarterfinal matchup against Tulsa.
With heavy-duty brace on her right ankle, the junior guard made her 26th start of the season against the Golden Hurricane, scoring two points in 15 minutes of play. Her only assist on the night came on the first play of the game, where she found Gabby Williams in the post just 19 seconds in to give UConn (30-0) a 2-0 lead.
“She looked okay. When you haven’t played in a long time, that’s how you’re going to look,” head coach Geno Auriemma said of Nurse. “Not only has she not played in a long time, she hasn’t practiced either…She’ll play a lot better tomorrow.”
Nurse just returned to practice on Friday and did not look to be at full-strength in her first game back. The more than two-week long absence from the court was noticeable during her time on the floor, with Nurse shooting just 1-5 from the floor, including a long pull-up jumper on a fast-break that was well off the mark. Despite this, Nurse held nothing back against Tulsa, taking control of the point when she was on the floor and playing up top of the Huskies’ 3-2 zone in the first quarter.
“Today was a lot of fun. The ability to get back and do a lot of different things was a good time for me,” Nurse said. “Fifteen minutes was good. Obviously you don’t want to just throw yourself back in with an injury like this, so you try to ease it back in there and I think the coaches manage my minutes pretty well.”
The return of Nurse gives the Huskies some much needed depth for the grind of back-to-back games in tournament play. Even in limited minutes, Nurse’s talent will allow her to make an impact on the game on both ends of the floor no matter how many minutes she plays.
But for the team as a whole Nurse’s return is more than numbers and X’s and O’s. It means that their leader is back where’s she’s supposed to be.
“It was good to have our floor general back,” Williams said. “She looked like she didn’t miss a beat as far as being that guy we can lean on.”
While Nurse has missed time due to injury, freshman guard Crystal Dangerfield has continued to develop and show signs of her immense talent. After averaging eight points, 4.6 assists and two steals per game in Nurse’s absence, Dangerfield continued her stellar play in Nurse’s return, scoring 11 points with seven assists and just one turnover in 29 minutes against Tulsa.
“Crystal has gotten a lot better. The injury to Kia wasn’t great for our team obviously, but it was great for Crystal. She got a chance to play a lot of minutes and didn’t really have a choice. We really couldn’t take her out, so she knew she was going to play and she knew she had to play well,” Auriemma said. “I think the last week and a half, two weeks, I think Crystal has made huge strides.”
As Nurse continues to return back to her usual self, Dangerfield will still hear her name called frequently to handle a bulk of the work at point guard. That’s something that the freshman point guard doesn’t seem to mind.
“Now it’s just being able to know I can come in and be a spark if things are struggling or be an extra spark if things are going well,” Dangerfield said. “I’m taking what I’m given and just being aggressive.”
Nurse’s attitude and mentality won’t keep her on the bench for long as she grows more accustomed to playing with brace and aware of her current limitations. As the Huskies gear up for potentially two more games in two days in the quest for another conference championship, Nurse, like always, just wants to get on the court and compete.
“Because this injury was a little different in the sense that you really had to get off it for a while, that’s something that was probably the hardest for me,” Nurse said. “It’s a lot on me, especially someone who is really competitive and always wants to be doing something, but I got through it.”