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UConn women in overdrive as they head into final on Monday versus USF.

POSTED March 07, 2016
BY Timothy W. Gaffney
Twitter: @TimothyGaffney

Uncasville -- Scary, intimidating, ridiculous, absurd, magnificent or unbelievable.

Those are just a few of the words that come to mind when you are talking about the effort the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team put forth, especially on the defense end, in its 82-35 dismantling (oh yeah, there’s another one) of the Tulane Green Wave on Sunday afternoon in the semifinals of the American Athletic Conference.

UConn moves on to play Monday night right here at the Land of the Sun at 7 p.m. against the USF Bulls, who defeated Temple by a 64-46 final in the second game of the day.

How dominating or devastating or remarkable (sorry) was their effort early in this one?

Even for Husky standards, this one was special.

The No. 1 ranked team in the land raced out to a 14-0 lead before the Green Wave even had a chance to breath in every way imaginable.

Tulane finally broke onto the scoreboard with 4:42 left in the first quarter, going more than half of it before scoring.

For a team that at times has struggled to get off to quick starts during the end of the regular season, that issue was solved once the calendar struck March, or make that on that pesky extra day in February when they started to turn things around in the second half of the USF game.

The Huskies had also started slow versus the Green Wave in their last meeting on Senior Day at Storrs. So what was the difference?

“When you make shots it looks like ‘wow, you came ready to play,''' UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. ''When the shots don’t go in, 'they must be flat.' When you look at the film of our game on Senior Night we got the exact same shots. Today they went in.”

On Sunday, UConn held Tulane under double digits for each of the first three quarters, allowing 5, 9 and 8 points respectively. For a team not known for playing great zone defense, the Huskies are certainly getting better.

It was that superb defense effort that at one point made you wonder if the Green Wave would even crack the scoreboard.

“When I watch us play like that,” Auriemma said. “I keep getting flashbacks to how many great players and teams we have had and how many times I have seen that. It’s demoralizing for the other team. It’s not anything against the teams we are playing. It could have been anybody. When we do that it is really, really hard to play us.” 

Since that USF game, one that the Huskies trailed at the half for the first time since the Carter Administration, the switch has been on and not just from players named Stewart, Jefferson or Tuck.

One player, in particular, Kia Nurse has heeded the calls from her coaches to be more aggressive on both ends of the floor and it is starting to show.

Nurse scored seven of her 12 points in the first quarter when UConn raced out to a 28-5 lead.

Her aggression was well apparent and varied with a pair of free throws off a drive to the basket, followed by a 3-pointer on her team’s next trip down and another jumper sandwiched around a Katie Lou Samuelson (game-high 17) three ball.

What has been the difference in Nurse?

“With Kia, she was really able to see herself and get into a grove,'' senior Breanna Stewart said. ''She can see the ball going into the basket, which has kind of been a struggle for her during conference play. Now I think she’s not thinking as much about playing and just going out and playing.”

It has long been the thought of her coaches that the sophomore guard tends to get a little too cerebral at times on the court instead of just letting her natural talent come to the forefront.

“I definitely think after that second half performance,” Nurse said. “Coming out and just being more confident in myself and rolling with the punches and going as it goes it’s been going really well since then.”

NOTES: The Huskies shot a ridiculous 11-for-15 in the first quarter while holding the Green Wave to 2-of-12. That total included nine assists, four steals and a pair of blocks by Stewart.

At halftime, it didn’t get much better for the Green Wave who shot 6-for-25 (24 percent) while the Huskies stayed hot at 19-for-29 (65.5 percent).

Samuelson stayed hot, as she has been the past two games, following up her 16-point effort with a 17-point effort that included 3-for-4 from downtown.

Morgan Tuck added 15, including three traditional three-point plays in the first three quarters.

Stewart scored nine points, the first time she has not scored in double figures all season. But nobody will care much about that stat, especially Stewart herself.

7,033 fans showed up for the first game of the doubleheader at Mohegan and the head coach is a fan of playing here.

“I think a different fan comes here,” Auriemma said. “I don’t know that all the fans who come here are the regular season-ticket holders at UConn. Sometimes game time have a lot to do with it. I’ve got to tell you, I think they make it easier here than they do at Storrs for people to come to the games. It may be farther away but it is easier to get here. We kind of have created an environment where there is no sense of urgency to watch us play. It’s not like I want to watch these first two rounds because I want to see Stewie, Tuck and Moriah. Maybe they will. Maybe they will surprise us.”     

In her second postseason with the Huskies, Nurse, the sophomore from Ontario, is getting used to what it’s like to play in these kinds of games.

“It’s a whole lot of fun,” Nurse said. “But at the same time it’s a difficult place to be. You’re going to be pushed outside your comfort zone and you are going to reach things you never though you could do.”

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