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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Lofty expectations for UConn's Kia Nurse

The biggest question surrounding today's American Athletic Conference  women's basketball day had little to do with the preseason poll since UConn was predictably the unanimous pick to win the conference. Why not? Even with the graduation of All-Americans Moriah Jefferson, Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck, the Huskies have never lost a game in the AAC and never had a final score closer than 14 points in 63 games.

Now when the subject turned to who would be the AAC preseason player of the year that is a different story.

Tulane's Kolby Morgan impressed me as much as any opposing AAC player not named Courtney Williams a season ago and she is the top returning scorer in the conference. Temple's Alliya Butts is another worthy candidate. However, I sort of assumed it would be a UConn player for the reasons mentioned above as UConn has never lost in this conference and 22 of the 63 games have been decided by at least 50 points.

That leaves Kia Nurse, the only player to start all 38 games a season ago, and Katie Lou Samuelson, the Huskies' top returning scorer, as top options.

Nurse, despite not being unanimously voted onto the AAC preseason team, was the one to receive that honor.

"Obviously it is a big honor and I am fortunate to have it but I believe it is preseason so I understand that I have to go out there, still perform and show it in that way," Nurse said.

UConn brought four players to media day in Philadelphia, the most of any team, and none of them were seniors which is a little unusual. The good news is that senior guard Saniya Chong earned plenty of praise from UConn coach Geno Auriemma for how she has been practicing.

"I think Saniya is going to have a great year, I really do," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said, "She is going to surprise a lot of people. She knows that there isn't anymore of 'OK, I'll get it next year' or 'OK, they don't need me because they've got ...' She has been really good since the first day of practice and I am really happy for her and I think she is going to be a big key."

Auriemma isn't going to ask Chong to play like an All-American. He would love to see her play a role similar to what Ketia Swanier did as a senior. Play some quality minutes, distribute the ball, make the sots when you are open (and playing alongside Nurse, Samuelson, Napheesa Collier and Gabby Williams she will be open)."

If the Huskies can get 12-15 quality minutes a game from her it would serve several purposes. First, it would take some of the pressure off freshmen Crystal Dangerfield and Molly Bent and it would allow Nurse to play her more natural position of shooting guard.
"I have been playing off the ball more recently especially with the national team," Nurse said. "It wasn't my natural position but I was a point guard for most of my life so I do think I will be playing a little bit of both. I do think off the ball I can help out because I understand the offenses and those kinds of things and I think Moriah helped me out a lot with that last year. Doing a little bit of both, I think I can handle it.

"I think she (Dangerfield) has to understand that she is not alone in this. As somebody who has been here for a long time and worked with Mo (Jefferson) in that kind of sense, I learned from her and have Shea on your side and go through film, I have her back on that and I will help her out wth all of that."

SALES FITTING INAliyah Gregory was already fired up when she headed that Tahnee Balerio would be making the move from Albany along with newly-hired UCF head coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson. Then when the high-scoring junior guard found out that former UConn and WNBA star Nykesha Sales would also be joining the UCF staff, she was downright giddy.

"It is amazing opportunity,' Gregory said. "I was already excited because we had Coach (Balerio) on our staff and then I found out Coach Keesh was hired and I said the two of them are going to take it to a new level."
Although Sales is a Bloomfield native, she settled in Orlando after beginning her WNBA career with the Orlando Miracle. When the team relocated to Connecticut, Sales became a face of a team that made it to a pair of WNBA finals and after retiring, she worked with the team.
Sales wasn't even on Abrahamson-Henderson's radar when she was trying to figure out who to hire to complete her staff when she happened to see Sales playing a pickup game on the UCF campus.

"I said 'that must be a sign for me,'" Abrahamson-Henderson. "She is a great person and she has no ego. They call her cool Keesh, she was a strong enough woman. She has that winning mentality and nobody on my staff has a losing mentality, they only know how to win, we just teach winning."
Gregory is among the players to benefit from Sales knowledge.
"It is the experience that she has, she played at UConn and played at the highest level," Gregory said. Being able to pick her brain and being able to (learn) from her, it has been really good.
"A lot of people say that my personality is just like hers so we get along really well. I know if I need anything, she always has my back."

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