STORRS - UConn seniors Kia Nurse and Gabby Williams each left the Gampel Pavilion court for the final time in their college careers with under five minutes remaining in Monday’s NCAA Tournament second-round game with No. 9 Quinnipiac.
As each player ran off the floor - Williams with 4:43 remaining, and Nurse with 2:27 left - the crowd of 8,957 stood as one to give them a standing ovation, celebrating and honoring them for everything they have accomplished as Huskies - two national championships, three trips to the Final Four, four AAC regular season and tournament titles, and a historic 111-game winning streak.
“They deserved it for all that they’ve done for this program,” junior forward Azura Stevens said. “I’m happy for them. They’ve been really good leaders for us, and they effect the game in a lot of ways, especially defensively. They’re our rocks on the defensive end. It’s going to be hard to play without them next year.”
Although the emotions that often come out during a player’s final home game didn’t hit Nurse when she was running off the court for the last time or standing in the locker room postgame, the Hamilton, Ontario, native expects them to arrive at some point soon.
“I’ve had some great memories here,” Nurse said. “When we played South Carolina here (Feb. 13, 2017), this place was pure rocking. There were points where the floor was shaking, because everybody is so close in this facility. Those white-outs were always the best. The emotions are going to hit me later. Once I walk past here, going to class one day, and realize that I’m not playing here anymore, I’ll be sad.”
UConn’s 71-46 victory over the Bobcats moved Williams and Nurse to 35-0 at Gampel in their Huskies careers. They are the third Huskeis senior class to go unbeaten at home.
“It still hasn’t really hit me yet that I won’t be playing here again,” Williams said. “But to think that we’ve never lost a game in Connecticut is pretty cool. We’ve had the best fans in the world for so long. I’ve had so much support here.”
Nurse, who averaged 13.8 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 2.7 assists per game, scored 13 points on 4-for-7 shooting, three assists and three rebounds in 34 minutes. The 6-foot guard was 3-for-5 from behind the arc.
Williams, who has averaged 10.7 points, 7.4 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game this season, had six points and five assists in 22 minutes.
But the impact Williams and Nurse have had on the team extends beyond their performance on the court.
“I’ve seen them grow the last few years and become the leaders that they are for us now,” junior forward Napheesa Collier said. “It’s been such a privilege for me to play with them. They really helped guide Katie Lou (Samuelson) and I, especially our freshman year, because they had just gone through it. Every step of the way, if I had any questions, I could always go to them and they would always help us through any troubles that we were having.”
Playing at home in front of the Huskies faithful has been a thrill for Williams.
“Gampel is like nowhere else in the country,” Williams said. “The fact that we draw this much attention and all these people come from all over Connecticut and New England to see us play, it never gets old. It’s pretty cool.”