Kia Nurse returns for UConn; Dangerfield continues to shine
Junior guard Kia Nurse missed the final four games of the regular season due to a stress reaction in her right ankle. Yesterday was the first practice she took part in since the decision was made to shut her down for a couple of weeks and clearly she was on a reduced minute count.
Nurse played 15 minutes, was 1 of 5 from the field as she finished with two points and one assist in her 100th career start. However, just getting Nurse on the court for the game will begin the process of her shaking the rust off with hopefully a much healthier ankle.
"Today was a lot of fun, the ability to get back and do a lot of different things was a good time for me," Nurse said. "I tried not to baby it in any way but obviously certain movements you want to try to avoid, not overdo certain cuts and pivots but other than that it was really good."
This is an interesting situation because Nurse's toughness is well documented, She is the type of player who would ignore the pain and play on which is something that could have put her season in jeopardy. She knows she needs to be smart especially during this tournament since there will be ample time to rest between the end of the AAC tournament and start of the NCAAs.
"Obviously you don't want to just throw yourself back in with an injury like this so you try to ease back in there. I think the coaches managed it really well," Nurse said. "This injury was different in the sense that I had to get off of it for a little while, that was probably something that was the hardest for me. It is a lot on me, especially somebody who is really competitive and always wants to be (playing)."
UConn coach Geno Auriemma was pleased with what he saw some Nurse in her first game back.
"Our trainer said if we could get 15 minutes that would be great and I think it ended up right on the number," Auriemma said. "How did she look? She looked OK. When you haven't played in a long time, that is what you are going to look like. Not only has she not played in a long time, she hasn't practiced either. Yesterday was the first time that she actually did anything up and down the floor. I thought she did OK and she will play a lot better tomorrow."
One thing that was noticeable against Tulsa is how the pace of the game picked up when freshman guard Crystal Dangerfield checked into the game midway through the first quarter.
Dangerfield played 29 minutes as she had 11 points, four rebounds, seven assists (including a gorgeous one to Napheesa Collier on the break). I thought some of her best work was on the defensive end. Just as she did against USF, Dangerfield was asked to apply pressure on the opposing point guard and most certainly obliged drawing the most praise from Auriemma than at any point this season.
"Losing Kia wasn't great for our team obviously but it was great for Crystal," Auriemma said. "She got a chance to play a lot of minutes and didn't really have a choice. We really couldn't take her out. She knew she was going to play and knew she had to play well so even in practice she has been more involved and doing more. I think the last week and a half, two weeks, I think Crystal has made huge strides. She's been practicing really well. I am not surprised at what she did today, I think there is a lot more of that coming as we move along."
Dangerfield is ready to be a spark off the bench, a role she was trying to fill before Nurse's injury resulted in her moving into the starting lineup.
"We just started tournament play and you have to play at another level and I am just trying to do that," Dangerfield said. "If it is just something as simple as messing up their timing, it helps. I want them to know that I can come in and be a spark, be an extra spark if things aren't going well."
Nurse has tried to help Dangerfield deal with an expanded role especially during those four games when Dangerfield was starting.
"It was a step up," Nurse said. "There is an understanding that there is a little bit more pressure where we don't have a ton of guards so when one goes down it is kind of a lot bigger than it seems but she did a great job of stepping up. For me, I couldn't show her how to do it so if I could tell her, give her little hints here or thing in any way possible an she did a great job."