Patience and time in the gym pay off for Kia Nurse in UConn's second-round win

Nurse leads UConn past Syracuse (0:54)

Kia Nurse makes 9-of-12 shots from 3-point range and scores 29 points as Connecticut tops Syracuse 94-64. (0:54)

STORRS, Conn. -- During her first two seasons at Connecticut, Kia Nurse waited in the wings patiently as the spotlight focused on Moriah Jefferson, Morgan Tuck and Breanna Stewart.

Nurse was a complement to the faces of the program. As coach Geno Auriemma put it, the 6-foot Nurse made a living off getting to the right spot at the right time, catching passes from the core three who drew a majority of the attention, and converting.

"Because of the players she was surrounded by, she gets a lot of [shots] in her first two years," Auriemma said. "It was Stewie's going to get hers and Moriah is going to get hers and Tuck is going to get hers, and whatever is left over those other guys got."

Nurse, meanwhile, focused on improving so that when the day came, and that go-to title landed on her name, she'd be ready. She heeded a simple tip from an upperclassman.

"I remember when I was a freshman and I wasn't shooting it that much, I remember Moriah Jefferson talking about how you need to just get in the gym and see it go in the net a couple times," Nurse said.

With the departure of Jefferson, Tuck and Stewart at the conclusion of last season, and another championship banner hoisted among the overcrowded rafters at Gampel Pavilion, Auriemma turned to Nurse.

"I think coming into this season, Kia knew she was going to get a lot of shots," Auriemma said. "She could get as many as she wanted."

In UConn's 94-64 victory over Syracuse on Monday, Nurse put on a shooting performance that Auriemma said young kids have dreams about.

Nurse dropped 29 points on 10-of-13 shooting in an awe-inspiring performance that included nine 3-pointers, which tied an NCAA tournament single-game record. She hit eight in the first half.

"We just missed her," Syracuse coach Quentin Hillsman said. "We flat-out missed her."

With the win, the Huskies advance to the Sweet 16 for the 24th consecutive year. And for a team that was unsatisfied with its performance after a 61-point rout of Albany on Saturday, the Huskies erased the doubts their coach might have had, particularly on the defensive end of the ball.

The Huskies used their impressive length to disrupt the play of the Orange's senior backcourt of Alexis Peterson and Brittney Sykes, touted as the best scoring guard tandem in the country. The Orange, who have relied on the 3-point shot to defeat their opposition in recent years, went just 3-for-9 in the first half.

Syracuse freshman guard Gabby Cooper, who knocked down five 3-pointers in the first seven minutes of the first-round win against Iowa State, took just one shot in the first half Monday -- missing a contested 3. Syracuse went 5-for-11 on 3s after the break, but it was too little, too late. Peterson and Sykes finished the night with 25 points and 15 points, respectively, in their final college game.

While the Huskies defense shut down the Orange with a collective effort, the night belonged to Nurse, whose hot hand seemed to catch absolute fire as the game's first half progressed. First it was a 3-pointer from the top of the key, then a few from the left wing, capped off by one or two from the right corner. Strong ball movement - overall, UConn had assists on 30 of 33 made field goals -- allowed Nurse to attempt open shots.

The halftime buzzer was the only thing that was going to stop Nurse. Through two quarters, Nurse had 26 points; Syracuse had 29.

No moment better captured the magic of Nurse's night than a play just a few minutes into the third quarter. She ran to the left corner with the Huskies in transition. With Sykes closing quickly, Nurse threw up a shot to the disbelief of just about everyone in the stands. By design, the ball banked off the backboard and went in, yielding a smile from Nurse as she headed back down the floor.

"We were all just like, 'Wow! It's her night, give her the ball,'" said sophomore Katie Lou Samuelson, familiar with that experience after hitting all 10 of her 3-pointers in a game earlier this month. "It's awesome being on the court when she is hitting like that."

Added Nurse: "Once you see one or two in the net, you shoot it with confidence. Confidence is half the battle."

Confidence wasn't the easiest thing to come by for Nurse. She struggled early this season, shooting 13-of-43 through the first five games, including an 0-for-5 performance against Florida State and a 3-of-12 display against Baylor.

In addition to her early slump, Nurse battled a nagging ankle injury in the latter part of the year, causing her to miss four games and play limited minutes in others.

Still, Auriemma wasn't surprised by his junior leader's turnaround. Nurse is not wired to fail.

"She's a determined kid," Auriemma said. "She spends a lot of time in the gym, on her own. She puts the time in; she's a worker. She's being rewarded by it. And she's healthy, she feels good. "