By Larry Moko
With her family members in attendance and ‘Go Kia Go’ signs scattered throughout the enthusiastic full house at Toronto’s Mattamy Athletic Centre, St. Thomas More Catholic Secondary School product Kia Nurse played the first ‘home’ game of her NCAA Division 1 basketball career Friday.
And the 6-foot senior guard from Hamilton didn’t disappoint. She scored 24 points to help the No. 1-ranked UConn Huskies defeat the Duquesne Dukes, 104-52. Nurse also contributed five rebounds, two assists and made 9 of her 11 shots from the field during the team’s most lopsided victory of the season.
It was undefeated UConn’s first regular-season game ever held in Canada.
“It was a great atmosphere …the place was rockin’,” Nurse said.
Standing next to her teammates prior to the tip-off, Nurse proudly belted out the Canadian national anthem. And moments after the final buzzer, she stood at centre court, waved, smiled and mouthed “thank you” to the crowd as it gave her one last ovation.
“My grandparents got to see me play for the first time in a Connecticut jersey,” she said. “That’s something that’s really special.”
The Welcome Home Kia Nurse night was arranged by UConn officials to recognize her contribution to the Huskies, winners of two national women’s basketball championships in the past three years.
“I know she appreciates it and we enjoyed doing it,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said of the event. “It was fun for everybody that remembers Kia and supports her. We played pretty well, too. It was worthwhile.”
Nurse’s head coach, incidentally, picked up his 1,000th career victory earlier in the week against Oklahoma. He’s also guided the Huskies to 11 national championships, putting together a remarkable 111-game winning streak along the way (snapped by a 66-64 loss in overtime last season to Mississippi State in a Final Four semifinal).
“To be in this incredible program is the best decision I ever made,” Nurse said. “You grow so much in a short time. Every day you’re learning something new.”
Auriemma says Nurse has done a great job in the collegiate ranks and her long-range shooting has improved significantly. Last month, against Nevada for example, Nurse drained all eight of her three-point attempts and connected on a school-record 12-for-12 over a three-game stretch. Currently, she leads the Huskies in 3-point shooting, averaging 56 per cent (29 of 52).
This season, Nurse is averaging 16.4 points and 3.2 rebounds. She has made 21 of 25 free throws (84 per cent) and is shooting 50 per cent from the field (57 of 94). Nurse also leads the team in minutes, averaging 33.5.
“Kia always competes really hard,” Auriemma said. “That’s what got her into the lineup her freshman year. She comes from a competitive family. They’ve had a lot of success. She puts pressure on herself to live up to that.”
With Nurse in the lineup, St. Thomas More captured three consecutive Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations AAAA championships. And her Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic high school coach during that run – Blaize DiSabatino – was in attendance for the homecoming. Also showing support was the Transway club which Nurse played for and led to numerous Ontario Basketball Association titles.
Nurse’s contribution to the rise of Canadian women’s basketball on the world stage cannot be denied. She was captain of the U-17 team that brought home bronze from the FIBA world championships in 2012. She also wore Canadian colours at the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro (seventh) and, in 2015, helped Canada win its first gold medal in basketball at the Pan American Games. That final, against the United States, was held at Mattamy and Nurse poured in 33 points.
“We loved her when we saw her,” Auriemma said. “Players have to be unselfish. That’s the No. 1 thing we try to recruit. We have multi-talented players. They’re not just one-dimensional.”
With the loss, Duquesne fell to 10-3. Halle Bovell, another former HWCAA player for the St. Mary Crusaders, travels with the Dukes this season but is being red-shirted.
Nurse will spend the Christmas holidays with her family in Hamilton before returning when UConn practices resume Dec. 28.
“It’s been a long grind,” Auriemma said. “We started in August and then the trip to the west coast took a lot out of us.”
Source: Marnie Jadon