STORRS, Conn. -- When the University of Connecticut women's basketball team struggled with Tulane a season ago in New Orleans, Kia Nurse was on the Huskies' bench sitting out with an ankle injury.
Nurse was ready for the Green Wave when they visited Gampel Pavilion Saturday. And as it's been for most of her time here, UConn is a better team with her than without her. The difference, though, has never been so pronounced.
The senior guard made her mark in many ways, scoring 14 points on 5-for-7 shooting from the floor, adding a career-high matching seven rebounds with four assists and no turnovers, and leading a defensive effort that locked up Tulane star Kolby Morgan as No. 1 UConn routed the Green Wave 98-45 in American Athletic Conference action at sold-out Gampel Pavilion.
"That's the key to everything Kia does," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "She makes an impact. She has an impact defensively, she has an impact spreading the floor for us offensively with the way she's shooting the ball. I'm reluctant to take her out unless we have to. She impacts the game at both ends of the floor. She doesn't have to do that by scoring, though she does make a bunch of shots.
"I thought she was really good last year but she's been great this year."
At a level where the Hamilton, Ontario, native has put herself into the All-American conversations.
Nurse leads the Huskies (20-0 overall, 9-0 AAC) in minutes played at 32.3 and is averaging career highs of 15.1 points and 3.5 rebounds. Her shooting percentages from the floor (57.1) and 3-point range (nation's best 50.5) have never been better. She's also averaging 2.9 assists per game with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.3.
Then there are numbers on the defensive end that don't show up on the stat sheet. Her latest lockdown came at the expense of Tulane senior guard Kolby Morgan, who came in scoring at a 21.3 points per game clip but managed just two Saturday on 1-for-10 shooting.
"We're having fun, and that's something we're getting better at each and every day," Nurse said. "For me, there are a lot of things that I want to get better at but my teammates are helping me out and making sure that I'm successful in ways that are easy for me.
"It's a matter of being a consistent shooter and knocking down open shots when I get them, but also being able to finish a couple and-ones here and there."
Even when Morgan got her lone basket on a drive to the hoop late in the third quarter, Nurse responded by hitting a 3-pointer on the next possession. Her best play, at least the one that drew a roar from the student section, was her block of a Kayla Manuirirangi jump shot. She then got to the loose ball first and raced in for a layup that gave the Huskies a 56-point lead going to the fourth quarter.
There was no let-up until she took a seat on the UConn bench with 7:16 to go.
"Providing energy is something I've been able to do for a long time," Nurse said. "That's something that is just an effort thing that you can bring every single day. It has nothing to do with how many shots you make or how many shots you get. For me, that all stems from defense. If I work to my strengths on defense it usually helps translate into offense."
Another part of Nurse's senior success is the sophomore surge by teammate Crystal Dangerfield, who won the point guard spot during the offseason and appears to have no intention of giving it up for a couple more years.
Dangerfield has taken a big share of the ball handling duties and has freed Nurse to play what is more her natural position -- at least at UConn -- which is off the ball.
"When you're able to get experience under your belt with games and practices, you can kind of build chemistry," Nurse said. "For me, Crystal does a lot of things on the court that take pressure off me. I think we're working really well together with our strengths. I'm in positions now where the shots are probably easier to where I can probably even make some of them with my eyes closed. When you have someone like Crystal who has as much quickness, as much intelligence, and as much ability to get the ball where it needs to go on time and on target, it always helps."
Of course, Nurse got to spend her first two seasons playing alongside All-American and two-time Nancy Lieberman Award winner Moriah Jefferson.
"They're different, even though they're both very quick guards with a great IQ," Nurse said. "Crystal's development is only going to continue to go up. With Mo, I came in and she was already developed. She was kind of the go-to and she took me under her wing. With Crystal, it's kind of the opposite or flipped. But they're both a lot of fun to play with."
Playing in front of the 200th sellout crowd in program history, the Huskies (20-0 overall, 9-0 AAC) never trailed. At 4-3, UConn went on a 22-2 run with All-Americans Katie Lou Samuelson (8) and Napheesa Collier (7) combining for 15 points. The Green Wave (11-10, 3-5) showed their only sign of life when consecutive 3-pointers by Tatyana Lofton and Manuirirangi compelled Auriemma to call a time out. But Nurse hit a trey to close out the first quarter and Azura Stevens had six points in a 9-0 spurt to the start the second quarter that made it 42-11.
A Megan Walker 3 gave the Huskies their biggest lead of the half at 36 and it was 53-19 at the break. Tulane got no closer and the largest lead was 62. Six UConn players, led by Samuelson's 19 points, reached double figures.
It was a far cry from the 63-60 victory at Devlin Fieldhouse last Feb. 18, five days after the Huskies had pushed their winning streak to 100 by beating South Carolina.
"There were a lot of things we did wrong that game," Samuelson said. "We wanted to make sure that didn't happen again. Tulane played great when we played them at their place last year. This year we wanted to make a statement."
The statement could have been in two parts: The Huskies had Nurse, and Tulane didn't have a chance.