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Young Huskies find early mojo, roll over DePaul, 91-46 behind 33 from Nurse.

POSTED December 02, 2016
BY Timothy W. Gaffney
Twitter: @TimothyGaffney

STORRS: Isn’t it great when a coach who is accustomed to winning championships (11) has a rather unique request for his opponents. He wants his team to be beaten, wants his team to be taken down a notch.

Welcome to the world of UConn head coach Geno Auriemma, who is actively hoping one of the five ranked teams in the month of December does something most coaches preach against in the most vocal of ways.

He wants them to lose (or be pushed really hard) to teach them a valuable lesson that what some of them have experienced over the last four years when nothing but championships fell into their laps is just not as easy as it appears.

Well, whatever the master motivator said between Tuesday and tip off Thursday, that day is going to have to wait as the Huskies roared out to a ridiculous 37-6 lead after one quarter on their way to a 91-46 waxing of the No 15 ranked team in the nation, DePaul.

Before the game, Auriemma and Blue Demons head coach Doug Bruno (who was Auriemma’s assistant), received their Olympic coaching rings before the Huskies simply ruined the rest of Bruno’s night.  

That butt kicking will have to happen another day. Or will it?

From the start of the season, the Huskies offense had been kicking into gear when freshman Crystal Dangerfield entered, normally midway through the first quarter.

By the time Dangerfield, who was cleared from concussion protocol just before the game, game in with 4:45 to go in the quarter, the lead was 19-1.  

UConn shot a remarkable 63% for the half and had 18 assists on 21 baskets, hitting on eight of 17 from three point land while holding DePaul to just 20 percent. For the night, the second ranked Huskies shot 59.3 percent from the floor with 29 assists on 35 buckets.

The starting five, the same unit that had at time started slow over the first five game, blasted out of the gate, led by a rejuvenated Kia Nurse who scored on three straight fast break layups on her way to a 24 first half points, 33 for the night in just three quarters.  

Nurse, an enigma at times for UConn, connected on nine of 10 shots in the opening half, missing on only one of her five three point attempts. She surpassed her career high of 22 in the first half when she had 24.

What will it take for Nurse to bring this kind of game every night?

“You have to get comfortable in this game,” Auriemma said. “If you’re not comfortable then you’re fighting yourself all the time. It can’t be good. Today she was really good because she was comfortable.”  

Nurse is that player who is very hard on herself, sometimes too hard where she overthinks the basics. Fighting through this hasn’t been easy but the junior guard has a strong support staff.

“There’s always a light at the end of the tunnel,” Nurse said. “It’s something I tend to remember. I’m extremely hard on myself, I hold myself to a high expectation level and I’m fortunate to have a support system around me that does the same thing. A lot of texts went out to my brother (a defenseman with the Edmonton Oilers) to see how he handled this stuff and my uncle reached out to me a couple of times. There’s just an exchange with how everybody does it (dealing with adversity).

UConn had not started fast this year and a sit down on Wednesday after a lackluster performance on Tuesday night in their win over Chattanooga involved some serious soul searching that the head coach had been looking for.

“We talked about a lot after that Chattanooga game,” Auriemma said. “This is a special place (Gampel) in woman’s basketball. People come out to see something special and you don’t want to put it on your players, but it’s their obligation somewhat to make the trip worth wild. So you can’t go out there and look like a high school team that they could just drive down the street to see in their hometown. They’re going to come here to see something special and for the majority of tonight, they did. That’s what Connecticut basketball always was and that’s what it needs to be all the time. I think more than anything that felt good. To see that reaction when we play like that. It’s pretty special when we play like that.”

Gabby Williams, who passed out a career high 10 assists to go with seven rebounds, talked about the changes the team had to make in order to get back to the standard set by the teams before this one.

“We really sat down and talked about how we’re playing,” Williams said. “Isn’t the way that UConn plays as a program and as a tradition. I think more than anything, we just wanted to stick to the morals and standards that are held to this program. We did not show that Tuesday, we did not show what coach and CD (Chris Daily) have built.”

What was the missing ingredient?

“I think what was missing was the togetherness,” Williams said. “Everyone was kind of focused on themselves and people didn’t take things personally enough and that started with us starters. We came out and we set the tone in a terrible way.”

Face it, this is a team that watched the Big Three dominate for the past four years. If they didn’t show up for a game or had an off night, Stewart, Tuck or Jefferson were right there to make sure things worked out well.

This team need to find its own identity, understanding that they are now the flag bearers and the message seemed to get through, at least for now.

“We kind of took it more to heart in practice yesterday,” Nurse said. “I think it came through, we had a really good practice and that’s when we said that’s the way we want it to be now translate that to the game and I think we did a better job of that today.”  

NOTES: Williams brought the crowd to their feet in the first quarter with an acrobatic save on a ball that she had no business getting to on a long pass destined to go out of bounds before the insanely athletic junior not only saved it but flipped it back to teammate Nephesh Collier for a basket.

Auriemma and Bruno received their Olympic Gold Medal Rings in a pre-game ceremony, celebrating the USA Gold Medal.

The Huskies head to Mohegan Sun on Sunday for a meeting with Texas at 4 p.m. followed by what may be the game of the early season when the Huskies travel to take on rival Notre Dame.  

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