GREENVILLE, N.C. -- Coming off her second national championship with the University of Connecticut women's basketball team and her appearance with Team Canada in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Kia Nurse was named the American Athletic Conference preseason Player of the Year in October.
As the league schedule nears the midway point, it seems unlikely that the junior guard will get the postseason honor. But if one of the Huskies does win it, Nurse will have had played a role in making that happen.
UConn takes on East Carolina on Tuesday night on SNY, with coverage beginning at 6:30 p.m.!
"Kia has been really solid for us," said sophomore guard Katie Lou Samuelson, who may be the leading candidate for the award. "She has had games where she hits a bunch of shots and scores a bunch of points, and then she has games where she contributes in different ways. She's been really good for us."
Nurse could reach an individual mark when top-ranked UConn visits East Carolina for an AAC game Tuesday at Minges Coliseum (SNY, 7 p.m.). She needs 12 points to become the 42nd member of the Huskies' 1,000-point club.
But all she's really interested in is keeping UConn's perfect record intact, which would also be its 94th consecutive win.
"Right now I feel like where my game is, is where it needs to be," Nurse said. "It's a place where I can be comfortable, make plays for other people, knock in some open shots and play some good defense."
Nurse is averaging 13.1 points and her shooting percentages (45.1 from the floor, 44 from 3-point land and 85.2 from the foul line) are all among the league leaders. She also ranks in the top 10 in assists (3.9) and assist-to-turnover ratio (plus-2.1).
While Samuelson, Napheesa Collier and Gabby Williams have emerged as All-American candidates, the Hamilton, Ontario, native goes along a bit more quietly doing what she does to help her teammates.
"Kia has been one of our most solid players in practices, lifts and games," Samuelson said. "We all look at her and know what we're going to get. We know she is going to be that person we can depend up to do the little things, so many things that you just don't see in the stat sheets. She has really been huge for us."
The graduation last May of UConn's three 2016 All-Americans -- Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck -- seemed to shift a lot of pressure onto Nurse, and it was difficult for her to deal with. She was also coming off surgery for a sports hernia that sidelined her for a time in the spring leading up to the Olympics.
But she has been a leader, and her veteran composure came through as UConn held off a fourth-quarter run by Maryland before a sellout crowd of 17,950 in College Park.
And if the Huskies need her to be their best player, she can do that, too.
"Kia's had a long couple of years," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "There hasn't been an easy stretch for her. It's been tough physically, it's been tough mentally for her. And it was a struggle at the beginning of the season, a big struggle. Little by little, she has fought through it.
"We graduated three great players and she is the only returning starter with Lou. There was feeling she was trying to be (all three) all in one. That's a lot on one player. When it dawned on her little by little not to worry about it because we have four guys who are pretty good, don't let it be more than what it is and be yourself, she's made a lot of stuff happen for us."
Auriemma added that the preseason hype got to Nurse a bit.
"She tried to do some of that stuff in practice and you could see she was struggling with how much she needed to do," he said. "As you get older, every player is like that. They want to do more. She wanted to be someone who had a much bigger impact than she had last year. She wanted to be someone her teammates could look to, and she was trying way too hard.
"Now she knows, 'If I pass the ball to Lou a lot, it's going to be alright. And if I pass to Pheesa a lot, it's going to be great. And I'm going to get a lot of shots, too.' "
Nurse didn't have big offensive numbers on UConn's last road trip to SMU and Tulsa, but she had seven assists to and just one turnover while stepping up defensively against the Mustangs' McKenzie Adams and the Golden Hurricane's Erika Wakefield.
Against Tulane on Sunday, she broke out with 18 points, three assists, no turnovers and a career-high six steals.
She's found the right pace for herself.
"It depends where you are mentally and physically and those kind of things," Nurse said. "The pace of play I am playing at right now is something that if I can maintain it every single day in practice so it becomes the norm, that would be a very good thing."
UConn (18-0, 6-0 AAC) is tied for first place in the league with Temple. The Owls, winners of 11 straight, have a non-league game against Philadelphia Big Five rival Pennsylvania on Wednesday.
The Huskies defeated East Carolina 90-45 on Jan. 4 at the XL Center. UConn has won 33 consecutive road games and can match its own NCAA record with a win Tuesday.
"It will be different being on the road this time because we'll be missing classes," Collier said. "Our other trips were on break but I think this will be a good trip."
East Carolina (10-10, 1-6) has lost four straight by double figures and has fallen into the AAC cellar. The Pirates are coming off a 74-64 loss at Cincinnati Saturday.
The Huskies don't play back-to-back home games until hosting SMU and South Carolina Feb. 11 and 13.
"We know what to do," Samuelson said. "We have to take care of business."