Nothing like traveling some 7,000 miles to break out of a shooting slump.
Kia Nurse won a gold medal at the FIBA AmeriCup 2017 Sunday with the Canadian national team but in six tournament games shot just 28.1 percent from the floor including 21.9 percent from 3-point land. But after traveling Monday from Buenos Aires, Argentina, to Rome to join her University of Connecticut teammates on their tour of Italy, the senior guard found her shot.
Nurse scored 18 points -- making 5-of-7 shots including a trio from 3-point land along with all five of her free throws -- Tuesday as the Huskies rolled past the Netherlands national team 88-66 in Game 2 of four exhibition games on their tour.
UConn also defeated Netherlands 68-52 in Rome Monday.
All-American Katie Lou Samuelson led the Huskies with 23 points Tuesday while adding five assists and a pair of steals. All-American Napheesa Collier posted her second straight double-double (12 points, 10 rebounds), while Azura Stevens contributed 10 points as she hit all four of her shots from the floor. All-American Gabby Williams chipped in seven points, six rebounds, and five assists. Crystal Dangerfield had six assists.
Samuelson was 8-for-13 from the floor and did all her damage in the first three quarters. UConn led 30-12 after one quarter, 50-26 at half, and 82-42 going to the fourth. In Monday's win, Collier had 16 points and 11 rebounds, Williams 15 points, and Samuelson and Stevens 11 points apiece.
The Huskies spent Tuesday night in Rome and was scheduled to arrive in Florence Wednesday afternoon (EDT). They were to make a stop in Siena during the day to take in the famous Palio di Siena horse race. Game 3 for UConn is Friday against an Italian All-Star team in Vicenza. The final game of the trip is set for Sunday against Celje of Slovenia in Trieste.
BERUBE'S SWEET 16s
The United States national team had coasted to gold medals in its first three appearances in the FIBA Americas U-16 Championships starting in 2009. In the 2013 final, Samuelson set a USA record by going 8-for-8 from 3-point land in a win over Canada. But two years ago the Americans were stunned by Brazil in the semifinals and settled for the bronze medal.
For the 2017 event, USA Basketball made an adjustment as it went to the college ranks to find its head coach. Tufts University's Carla Berube, the former UConn standout, proved to be the perfect fit. Team USA reclaimed the gold medal at the FIBA Americas event held June 7-11 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, routing Canada 91-46 in the championship game.
"They bought into what we wanted to do and worked extremely hard through training camp," Berube said last week after watching the Huskies prepare for their Italy trip at the Werth Champions Center in Storrs. "They became a team, they understood roles, and, I think, they enjoyed the process. They loved each other and loved to compete and that was through the camp and the double sessions in Colorado Springs. By the time we got to Argentina, they were ready to go. They came together and played well together. The scores of our games were indicative of the work they put in."
Team USA won its five tournament games by an average of 53.8 points with the closest final margin the championship game.
Aliyah Boston (6-foot-4 junior forward/center, Worcester, Massachusetts) was named the event's Most Valuable Player as she led the Americans in scoring (11.8) and rebounding (8.8) in 16.8 minutes per game. The UConn Class of 2019 recruiting target also shot 54.3 percent from the floor.
"Aliyah was dominant inside," Berube said. "Nobody could guard her, nobody could box her out. She was posting up hard in the lane and get getting offensive rebound after offensive rebound while also being a force on the defensive boards. She was a great leader, as well. It was fun to coach her."
Paige Bueckers (5-foot-11 sophomore guard, Eden Prairie, Minnesota) averaged 11.0 points, leading the tourney in shooting percentage at 61.5, while adding 2.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists, and 3.0 steals in 17.6 minutes per game.
Samantha Brunelle (6-foot-2 junior forward, Ruckersville, Virginia) was the only United States player with international experience coming in as she won a bronze medal at the 2016 U-17 world championships. She averaged 11.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.4 steals, and 2.2 blocked shots in 22.8 minutes per game. Though the UConn Class of 2019 recruiting target struggled with her shot from the floor, she led the tournament in free-throw percentage (93.3) and blocked shots while ranking second in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.67).
"You could definitely tell that Sam had more experience than anyone else," Berube said. "We, as a coaching staff, looked to her a lot and her teammates looked to her as well. She's been through it and knows what it's about and is familiar with international play and what the routine is like. She was key to our success. She didn't shoot the ball that well but she did so many other things well. But when we did need some big shots, she made them."
On Monday, Brunelle announced her college list of 11: Connecticut, Duke, Kentucky, Louisville, Maryland, North Carolina State, Notre Dame, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, and Wake Forest. She said in May that "it would be nice to have a decision made before my senior year so I can have that year to relax and prepare for college." Brunelle made an unofficial visit to Storrs last October.
Zia Cooke (5-foot-9 junior guard, Toledo, Ohio) was Team USA's fourth double-figure scorer (10.8). The youngest player on the squad, 14-year-old Azzi Fudd (5-foot-11 freshman guard, Falls Church, Virginia) averaged 8.0 points and ranked in the tourney's top 10 in assists and steals. She had a game-high 18 points in the finale against Canada.
By winning the gold medal, Team USA qualified for the 2018 FIBA U-17 world championships. Berube, who was assisted by Lubbock Christian University's Steve Gomez and Windward School's Vanessa Nygaard, hopes to be back next summer.
"It's a two-year commitment," Berube said. "So, I'll be there if (women's national team director) Carol Callan wants me."