STORRS – The UConn women’s basketball team celebrated the storied careers of Gabby Williams and Kia Nurse Monday night before going to battle with the USF Bulls and coming away with an 82-53 win on Senior Night.
The No. 1 Huskies’ win over American Athletic Conference rival No. 20 USF means UConn remains undefeated in conference play since joining the American in 2013-14 with an 86-0 record in the regular season.
On a night in which Gabby Williams was inducted to the Huskies of Honor, a list featuring only the best players in the historic UConn women’s basketball program, her and fellow senior Kia Nurse scored a combined 28 points to help guide UConn to a win.
Williams, in particular, had a typical game by her own standards. She was all over the floor and contributed in nearly every category. The 5-foot-11 Sparks, Nevada native finished with 18 points on 7-11 shooting from the field, and was a terrific facilitator, dishing out nine assists on the night. Williams also helped out with the hustle stats, grabbing four rebounds, three steals and one block in the victory.
“To play defense the way she did, to rebound the way she did and to pass the way she did,” UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said. “She’s come a long way in her four years. I couldn’t be happier for her. It was a terrific way to have her Senior Night.”
Williams has done a great deal for the program throughout her collegiate career. Among other great accomplishments, she earned a triple-double last season against ECU, becoming one of just five Huskies to do so. Williams has also tallied over 900 rebounds and 400 assists, and she should surpass the 1,500-points milestone before her career is done. Add in nearly 100 blocks and 300 steals and you have one of the most complete players in program history.
“There just haven’t been a lot of players that I’ve seen – and I’ve seen a lot of players – that can kind of get a crowd excited the way she does,” Auriemma said. “And it’s not just at one end of the floor. It’s a little bit of everything... It’s rare that you have a player that can do what Gabby can do around the basket and defensively, that can handle the ball and pass it the way she does.”
Nurse scored just 10 points on four for seven shooting Monday night, but gave the Huskies another fantastic defensive effort, one UConn fans have gotten used to over the last few years. Nurse was a big reason why USF’s stars, Kitija Laksa and Maria Jespersen struggled to score points. The pair scored a combined 26 points, but were hardly efficient, shooting just 9-32 from the floor.
“(Nurse) has taken it upon herself to be, like, the one that we count on defensively, day in and day out,” Auriemma said.
Nurse’s overall game throughout the years has been predicated on her high energy and ability to play lockdown defense, but her competitive fire is what separated her from the rest.
“From the time she walked on campus, Kia’s been, if nothing else, an amazing competitor,” Auriemma said. “She just is an unbelievable competitor. That’s the best way I can describe her... She comes to practice and every day it’s the same thing every day. And I think that’s a great example for our younger players.”
Auriemma said he has been particularly proud of how his two seniors have markedly improved over the years, and stressed their hard work is the key.
“(Kia) has become a much, much better passer. And she wasn’t a great 3-point shooter when she got here, and she’s become as good as anybody in the country,” Auriemma said. “She knew exactly what she wasn’t really good at and she got better at it. And it’s all because of how hard she works.”
“(As a freshman), Gabby was up and down, up and down. Played some games, didn’t play at all, hardly played in the NCAA Tournament,” Auriemma continued. “It would’ve been easy for her to say, ‘Hey, what’s the point?’ And she made herself into an All-American. Those are the kind of stories, I think, that hopefully Connecticut basketball is really proud of and is all about… That kid has really worked hard. She’s come a long, long way.”
Junior Katie Lou Samuelson said the work of Nurse and Williams to get better was a great example for her and other teammates.
“I think they’ve both done a really good job of, you know, just kind of embodying what UConn basketball is,” Samuelson said. “Gabby goes from freshman year, doesn’t play much, doesn’t get in some of the big games. By her junior year, she’s Defensive Player of the Year and All-American. And you know, Kia, she’s playing as good as she’s ever been right now. It’s great to see their progress.”
Samuelson came to UConn one year after the two seniors, but said it was beneficial to have teammates like Nurse and Williams to grow with as they all became key players in the program, but also to learn from as mentors on a young team.
“It was great to have two people…who had been through it but were still learning along the way, too,” Samuelson said. “We all kind of had that jump together last year where we had to step up and take over a new role. So just being able to go through that with them was pretty amazing if you think about it.”
Next up, the Huskies will prepare for the American Athletic Conference tournament at Mohegan Sun, where they will have to win three games in three days to claim their fifth consecutive American conference title.