Freshmen Kia Nurse and Gabby Williams have had outstanding seasons for UConn.
Heading into the NCAA tournament, the usual nerves that come along with playing on college basketball’s biggest stage clearly didn’t affect Nurse and Williams.
Both players shined in their NCAA tournament debut, playing just like they have been all season long. Nurse scored 12 points in her starting role while Williams provided a spark off the bench with 15 points in UConn’s 89-33 first round victory over St. Francis Brooklyn.
“It was exciting, definitely a lot of fun and we played well so that helps,” Nurse said with a smile after the game.
All it took was 15 seconds for Nurse to score her first points. She took a pass from Morgan Tuck and drilled a 3-pointer from the right wing, immediately relieving any nerves she had prior to tip off.
“The nerves kind of went away after that first shot went in,” Nurse said.
Nurse converted on her first three 3-pointers and finished the half 4 of 6 from beyond the arc. That proved to be all she would have to do on Saturday, as she didn’t take another shot. All 12 of her points came in the first half.
Williams came off the bench per usual and provided the spark that she has all season long. She finished 7 of 7 from the floor in 14 minutes of action. She also pulled in six rebounds.
“Just to bring energy off the bench, be that spark,” Williams said of her role on the team. “Probably the first thing that coach says to me before I go in is to rebound everything. I just have to go in with that mentality that every ball that comes my way I just have to snag it.”
Williams leads the team with a 65.7 field goal percentage and is pulling in 6.1 rebounds per game.
“For them to be very successful in it (their first NCAA tournament game), I think that means that they’re just going to be successful the rest of the tournament,” redshirt sophomore Morgan Tuck said.
Saturday’s game against St. Francis was UConn’s first game since defeating South Florida in the American Athletic Conference championship game on March 9. With such a long layoff between games, head coach Geno Auriemma said during the time off he tried to really get Nurse and Williams to buy into the fact that they will have a chance to play a monumental part in the tournament for UConn.
“Those guys are going to get opportunities, and they needed to be ready and they needed to feel like they could deliver when it was time, and because they never done it before, you’re not quite sure how they’re going to respond but I thought they responded great,” Auriemma said.
“He definitely made that clear,” Nurse said.
If the Huskies can get production out of players that aren’t named Tuck, Breanna Stewart and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, UConn is going to go a long way.
“If they could play the way they played tonight, if we could get that every night, I think we’ll be pretty hard to beat,” Auriemma said.