In UConn’s first-round rout of No. 16 Albany, Kia Nurse was lights-out from the 3-point line, tying her career-high with six 3-pointers as the Huskies rolled to an easy 116-55 victory.
She was even better Monday night against the No. 8-seeded Orange.
Nurse scored a game-high 29 points and shot a career-best 9-12 from the 3-point line in the Huskies’ 94-64 win over No. 8 Syracuse. It was the final game of the season at Gampel Pavilion.
The Ontario, Canada native’s nine 3s broke UConn’s NCAA tournament record of seven, previously set by Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis in 2015 against Dayton, and tied the NCAA tournament record for most 3-pointers in a game set by Purdue’s Courtney Moses in 2012.
“Kia’s performance speaks for itself. It’s one of those things kids dream about,” head coach Geno Auriemma said. “I want to have a game like that.”
Monday night’s performance had Nurse shooting 15-19 from beyond the arc just two games into the 2017 NCAA tournament. Nurse has been a solid shooter from deep this season – she entered the tournament shooting 40.5 percent from the 3-point line – but wasn’t necessarily a lights-out shooter early in her career. In the past, teams would let her take those shots.
Thanks to some practice and a tip from a former teammate, Nurse has turned into a deadly shooter in her own right.
“I remember when I was a freshman and I didn’t really shoot it much, I remember Moriah Jefferson talking about how you just have to get in the gym and see it go in a couple of times and then you can shoot it confidently, and that’s how she got her shot,” Nurse said.
Despite the shooting prowess of Katie Lou Samuelson, Syracuse head coach Quentin Hillsman was most concerned about Nurse beating them. As the first half wound down, Hillsman realized his nightmare had become reality.
“We were trying not to let her shoot actually,” Hillsman said. “We just missed her. We just flat out did not match up on her.”
The junior guard was hitting from deep early and often in the first half, sinking six of her eight first-half 3-pointers in the first quarter. Time after time, Syracuse left Nurse open, and she made them pay.
For most of the first half, the formula for Nurse was simple: Shoot, fist pump, repeat.
While Nurse has never been one to mask her emotions on the court, seeing so many shots go in brought her energy and enthusiasm to another level.
“Once you see one or two go in the net, you shoot with confidence. Confidence is half the battle,” Nurse said. “I felt like this week if I could get in the gym and see them go through the net, just shoot them confidently and if you’re open, knock them in.”
For a while, it seemed like Nurse couldn’t miss, even though she did three times on the night. She banked in her ninth and final 3-pointer of the game just over two minutes into the second half with a Syracuse defender closing in fast.
“Usually when Kia hits the side of the backboard in practice it goes out of bounds. This time it happened to go in so you knew it was a big night for us,” Auriemma said.
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Even when Nurse missed, good things happened. Sometimes, shooters just have that kind of night.
Her worst shot of the night was an air-ball on a deep heat-check 3-pointer that landed right into the open arms of Gabby Williams under the basket, who calmly dished it off to Napheesa Collier for an easy layup.
Not satisfied with just taking 3s, Nurse ended the third quarter passing up an open look from deep for an easy layup for Collier just before the buzzer.
“We’re trying to get the best possible shot every time down the floor, and if that’s you, then you need to shoot it. In that case, it wasn’t her. It was someone that had a layup,” Auriemma said.
Aside from her game-high 29 points, Nurse also chipped in a rebound, six assists and no turnovers to go along with her usual lock-down defense. Not too shabby.
“Kia shot the ball better than well, she shot it amazingly well,” Auriemma said. “But she played really well, and that’s even more important.”