Nurse sparks UConn to easy win over Syracuse in NCAA second round
Storrs — A lot of opposing coaches have uttered the words. To beat the UConn women's basketball team, a challenger would have to play the perfect game, then hope for some help from the four-time defending national champion Huskies.
But what happens if UConn plays perfectly?
Kia Nurse tied an NCAA tournament record with 9 3-point field goals Monday, finishing with 29 points, and top-seeded UConn led by 28 at halftime on the way to a 94-64 over No. 8 Syracuse in the tournament's second round before 8,274 fans at Gampel Pavilion.
UConn advanced to the Sweet 16 this weekend in Bridgeport to play No. 4 UCLA on Saturday at 2 p.m. UCLA routed Texas A&M, 75-43, late Monday.
It was the 109th straight victory for the Huskies (34-0) and will be their 24th straight regional semifinal.
“You saw it and they did it,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “And I got a chance to see it. I was shaking my head a few times.
“… I mean, what can I say? Those first three quarters, I just thought we were about as good as we could be. They're not the easiest team in the country to prepare for. (UConn's players) were good. You got to give it to them, they were really good.”
The game with Syracuse was a matchup of last year's national championship game in Indianapolis, won by UConn 82-51. It's the first time in NCAA history that a reprisal of the previous season's national championship took place the next year prior to the Final Four.
Syracuse came into the game with backcourt duo Alexis Peterson and Brittney Sykes, the nation's top-scoring guard tandem with 42.6 points per game, being billed by the Orange's public relations staff as “America's Best Backcourt.”
It's unclear whether Nurse, a guard, took umbrage to that, but she had 26 points in the first half with eight 3-pointers, going 8-for-10, although the Syracuse pair of Peterson (25 points) and Sykes (15 points) did combine for 40.
“It allows you to play with a little bit of a chip on your shoulder,” Nurse said of the “Best Backcourt” moniker.
“Normally on their press offense, she's back helping on the ball,” said Syracuse coach Quentin Hillsman of Nurse. “They inverted their lineup a little bit. They put her up the floor on the wing. We just missed her. That's on me.”
Auriemma feels it might not have mattered where Nurse was given the way UConn passed the ball. The Huskies had 30 assists on 33 baskets. To contrast, Syracuse (22-11) had eight assists on 26 baskets. Saniya Chong had seven assists for UConn, Nurse six and Crystal Dangerfield and Gabby Williams five each.
“Our ball movement was unbelievable,” Auriemma said, who cited the ratio of the Huskies assists-to-field goals. “Take a minute and think about that. It's just unusual. It's unusual to do what we did and we do it quite often.”
“It was just fun. We had a lot of fun on the court today,” UConn's Williams said. “Everybody (in the crowd) stayed for the entire game.”
Nurse was 10-for-13 shooting, 9-for-12 from 3-point range. The nine 3-pointers ties the NCAA tournament record previously held by Courtney Moses of Purdue, who hit nine in a first-round game against South Dakota State in 2012.
Aside from Nurse, Williams and Katie Lou Samuelson had 23 points each, with Samuelson going 11-for-13 from the free throw line. Napheesa Collier had 17 points, a team-high seven rebounds, three assists and three steals.
Hillsman pointed out that Syracuse ended its season two years in a row against UConn, once in the national championship and once on the Huskies' home floor. He said not to mistake his glass-half-full stance, however.
“I'm extremely disappointed,” Hillsman said. “We came here to win the basketball game. The glass is empty. We didn't expect to be going home. I didn't plan a vacation for next weekend; I expected to be still playing.”
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