STORRS, Conn. — In the course of playing just six games in her collegiate career, UConn’s Kia Nurse has managed to accomplish many significant things.
She has had an enormous impact on the two-time defending national champion and in doing so, has avoided the often playful critique her Hall of Fame coach traditionally reserves for freshmen.
Connecticut | G | Fr.
By any standard, that’s a nice three weeks.
“I knew that I needed to be more aggressive offensively here,” Nurse said. “I knew passivity was not going to work for me anymore. They [the coaches] had confidence in me and they’ve let that be known. It was important for me to know that and it was important in helping me get going.”
Nurse is averaging 13.7 points and 3.6 assists. She is 30 of 50 from the floor (60 percent) and has a 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. On Monday, the American Athletic Conference named Nurse its freshman of the week.
“I am not surprised at all,” said Moriah Jefferson, Nurse’s backcourt mate. “She came to us with the experience of playing with and against older players [on the Canadian senior national team] and she knows how to push the ball and be aggressive.
“The team is proud of her and we wish she keeps it up.”
Nurse was outstanding last weekend at the Gulf Coast Showcase. She averaged 14.3 points, on 60 percent shooting, with 5.3 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 1.7 steals in resounding wins against the College of Charleston, Vanderbilt, and Green Bay.
Her performance earned her selection as the tournament’s most outstanding player.
Since being installed as a starter in UConn’s third game, its home opener on Nov. 23 against Creighton at Gampel Pavilion, Nurse has provided staunch defense, which was expected, and offensive ingenuity that has come as something of a surprise.
During her time with the Canadian national team at the World Championship earlier this year, Auriemma said Nurse, the youngest player on the roster, was basically a facilitator. What he was anticipating was that she could play a more expansive role for his team.
“She has a completely different role for us than she did with the Canadian national team and rightly so,” Auriemma said. “They needed her to be exactly what she represented for them, someone who could get the ball to open players. She played her role. That’s what she was asked to do and she did it.
“For us, her role is more than that and we’re constantly urging her to do more, do more, do more, because she’s capable of doing more. The intensity level she’s playing at, all the plays that she makes, all she gets accomplished on the court, I’m not surprised.”
— Geno Auriemma
Nurse agrees with Auriemma’s assessment and said playing an accessory role was no problem for her.
“I was in a different world [on the national team],” Nurse said. “I knew I would have a different role here [at UConn] and now I’ve placed more of an emphasis on playing aggressively. It’s helped me out and it’s helped the team.”
After the Huskies began the Gulf Coast Classic with its Friday rout of College of Charleston, Auriemma said the addition of Nurse and sophomore Morgan Tuck as starters — in place of senior Kiah Stokes and sophomore Saniya Chong — was greatly responsible for the energy.
“I can’t say enough about Morgan Tuck and Kia Nurse, since those two guys have been in the lineup it has been a different feel. They were so aggressive and they make something happen every time they touch the ball and there is no substitute for that,” Auriemma said.
By the end of the weekend, the Huskies had won three games by a cumulative 136 points, limiting their opponents to an average of 43.0 points and just a 28.7 shooting percentage. They also forced 65 turnovers in the tournament.
Against Green Bay, Auriemma pointed to a defensive sequence near the sideline where Nurse and Jefferson harassed the ball for triggering the spark that helped the Huskies slowly expand from a 26-26 tie with 5:36 to play in the first half.
“Kia Nurse and Gabby Williams [another of the four freshmen] have grown up and stepped up,” Breanna Stewart said. “When I am on the court with them, I no longer think of them as freshmen. I think of them as just another UConn basketball player. The fact they’ve been assertive and aggressive on the court is going to help us.”