PHILADELPHIA -- Megan Walker was in the middle of the action Sunday after a talk with her coach Geno Auriemma Saturday.
The University of Connecticut women's basketball team's freshman wing had season highs of 22 points and five assists along with six rebounds in a season high 32 minutes Sunday as the top-ranked Huskies ripped Temple 113-57 in American Athletic Conference action at McGonigle Hall.
"Talking with coach was really important," Walker said. "We talked about expecting more from ourselves, and how we needed to be more engaged. We needed someone to step up and rebound and hit more shots." With Katie Lou Samuelson out (left ankle) and Gabby Williams (hip) and Crystal Dangerfield (shin splints) less than 100 percent, Walker was first off the bench and got the call from Auriemma midway through the first quarter.
She responded by going 7-for-11 from the floor and making all seven of her free throws. It was her first time scoring in double figures since Jan. 3 at East Carolina and her most playing time since getting 25 minutes of action at UCLA on Nov. 21.
"We're trying to find more guys that we can trust," Williams said. "Things happen like my hip, or Lou's ankle, or Crystal's shin. We're trying to find more guys to help out and spread the minutes out a little."
Walker was ready and anxious to help. The Chesterfield, Virginia, native had totaled just 30 minutes in the last four games, which included a did not play (coach's decision) at Texas.
"What I liked about what Megan got done is that Megan got things done," Auriemma said. "She actually went in and contributed and felt a part of what I thought she should have been doing all along. We had a long talk (Saturday), and hopefully this is the beginning of something that will continue. I didn't realize she scored as many points as she did. She has the ability to do that. All in all, I thought she did a great job."
Her day didn't start great as it began with a traveling violation and missed jumper. But she then got a defensive rebound, assisted on a Williams three-point play, and then got on the board with a layup. She opened the second quarter with her own three-point play and remained a factor at both ends of the floor.
"It felt really good for me to be out there with my teammates and knocking down shots," Walker said. "I got some rebounds. Actually I like the rebounds because I have a sneaky bounce and can jump real high.
"I thought I was more engaged. I was more focused, more locked in and ready to go."
There have been a couple of times this season that Walker appeared ready to make an impact on a consistent basis but then took a step back, whether it was due to illness or level of performance. With the Huskies hurting and needing depth that can be trusted, Walker could be a key player with February approaching.
"This is what we're hoping for," Walker said. "Me and coach had a conversation and it's going to be what you see going forward. I have to do the things that I know I can do and just play hard all the time and compete at everything. I have to want to get every rebound, get every steal I can, and not let anyone score on me. I have to have a competitive mindset."
UConn senior guard Kia Nurse was named the AAC Player of the Week Monday. In wins over Texas, Tulsa, and Temple, she averaged 18.0 points and shot 60.0 percent from the field and 55.6 percent from behond the arc.
The Hamilton, Ontario, native played all 40 minutes and had 13 points against Texas a week ago. She added 17 points in Thursday's game with Tulsa, and 24 points, six rebounds, and four assists Sunday at Temple.
"The one thing you never have to worry about with Kia is whether or not she is going to play hard," Auriemma said. "I really have a lot of appreciation for how hard she competes. You could play her 40 minutes every night. She could play doubleheaders, and the kid would never get tired and would play the same way all the time.
"(Sunday) she really put herself out there and tried to do more from a leadership point not having Lou and knowing that Gabby was a little bit banged up. I thought it was one of her best efforts. I didn't see her stats. I'm not talking about numbers. I always go by what it looks like out there, and it looked good for her."
For the season, Nurse is averaging 15.6 points and 3.3 rebounds. She is the only player in the AAC to rank in the league's top 10 in field-goal percentage (fifth, 57.4), free-throw percentage (sixth, 80.0), and 3-point percentage (first, 50.0).
Named to the AAC weekly honor roll were East Carolina's Necole Hope, Houston's Jasmyne Harris, South Florida's Maria Jespersen, Tulane's Kolby Morgan, and Wichita State's Diamond Lockhart. Central Florida forward Masseny Kaba was the AAC Freshman of the Week after averaging 11.0 points and 4.5 rebounds in wins over Tulane and SMU.
Samuelson sat out Sunday's game after aggravating a left ankle injury against Tulsa on Thursday. Auriemma said he did not have a timetable for the All-American junior guard's return to the lineup.
The Huskies have an AAC matinee in Memphis on Wednesday.
"My guess is that we'll go back and see how things look and then see how things look Tuesday and have to make a decision about whether or not she is going to go Wednesday or not," Auriemma said. Samuelson missed four games in November with a left foot sprain and hurt the ankle against Notre Dame on Dec. 3.
"She's had issues on that side for a long time dating back to high school," Auriemma said. "It's just something that we're going to have to manage the rest of the season. I hope it doesn't keep her out anymore, but there is never going to be a time this season when she's going to be 100 percent."
Last week's bye week for the NHL's Edmonton Oilers came at a perfect time for defenseman Darnell Nurse. Forty-eight hours after scoring the first overtime goal and second game-winning goal of his career in a victory over the Vegas Golden Knights, Nurse was at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Texas, a week ago tonight to watch his younger sister play for the first time as a collegian. "It was incredible, obviously, to have him around," Kia Nurse said. "I haven't seen him for awhile since he wasn't even home for Christmas. We were able to catch up and go to dinner. To see him in the stands cheering, that was fun."
Darnell Nurse, who is a year older than Kia as he turns 23 on Feb. 4, was Edmonton's first-round pick (seventh overall) in the 2013 NHL Draft. He is in his third full season with the Oilers. He netted his career-high sixth goal of the season on Jan. 13 as he took a pass from Drake Caggiula and beat Vegas goalie Marc-Andre Fleury with a wrist shot 55 seconds into the overtime to start a celebration among the Oilers' fans in the record crowd of 18,351 at the T-Mobile Center in Las Vegas.
"I just shot hard, close your eyes and shoot hard," he said with a smile during a postgame interview. The 6-foot-4, 220-pounder has played in all 47 games for Edmonton (21-23-3) and leads the team in plus/minus at plus-17 while ranking fourth in penalty minutes with 44.
According to Kia Nurse, neither his outstanding game against Vegas nor the outstanding season she's been putting together with the Huskies did not come up in Austin.
"We don't talk about our sports," she said. "I don't know anything about hockey and he doesn't know enough about basketball to really say anything about it other than, 'Good game.' That's pretty much it."
STILL THE 1
UConn (18-0) remained the No. 1 team in the Associated Press poll released Monday, receiving all 32 first-place votes for the 12th straight week.
Mississippi State (20-0) moved up one spot to second. The Bulldogs and Huskies are the only remaining unbeaten teams in the country. Baylor (17-1), Louisville (20-1), Notre Dame (18-2), Texas (15-3), Oregon (18-3), Florida State(18-2), South Carolina (16-3), and Tennessee (16-3) round out the top 10. UConn visits No. 9 South Carolina on Feb. 1, and hosts No. 4 Louisville at Gampel Pavilion on Feb. 12. Georgia (No. 21) and TCU (No. 24) entered the top 25 for the first time this season with Iowa and Rutgers dropping out. South Florida was the only other AAC team to receive votes, finishing with 12 points.
Auriemma's teams improved to 61-0 against opponents that have one of his former assistant coaches or players on their staff. Temple coach and former UConn assistant Tonya Cardoza is 0-10 against the Huskies ... Temple senior Tanaya Atkinson, who came in leading the AAC in scoring and rebounding, managed 15 points (6-for-14 shooting) and three rebounds Sunday ... Remember Tulsa shooting 11-for-24 from 3-point land in an 18-point loss to UConn at Gampel Pavilion? The Golden Hurricane followed up by going 2-for-24 from behind the arc in a 31-point loss to Tulane Sunday.