STORRS - Kia Nurse had stood silently and respectfully through 142 renditions of The Star Spangled Banner prior to UConn women’s basketball games.
But when the UConn pep band performed ‘O Canada!’ leading up to the Huskies’ Senior Night game with South Florida Monday, Nurse - a native of Hamilton, Ontario, and in whose honor the Canadian national anthem was played - sang loud and proud to the delight and smiles of her teammates standing near her.
“I sound like an angel, are you surprised?” Nurse said with her own smile.
Nurse and Williams were escorted by their families to center court where they were met by coach Geno Auriemma. Each was given a framed jersey that they raised to the cheering and standing crowd.
“It was incredible,” Nurse said. “I’m so fortunate to be part of a program that does things like this to celebrate four years and the journey and road that Gabby and I have been on. It’s even better when you get to do it with your best friend, somebody who’s been by your side through it all and who you’re extremely proud of.”
The short ceremony wrapped up with Williams’ No. 15 being unveiled on the wall at Gampel in the Huskies of Honor program. The Sparks, Nevada, native was given the honor as a 2017 WBCA All-American.
“I just looked at my mom and my family,” Williams said. “They never get to see that kind of stuff. They never get to be on the court. It was a moment that I was happy to share with them.
“I had no idea what to expect as far as what kind of emotions I’d be feeling. I kept that in the back of mind, ‘We still have a game.’ So I tried to stay focused. If I hadn’t seen what happened in the past here I would have been less prepared. But at the end of the day it means more to have a great game on Senior Night. The accolades and presentation is special and we love it. It means more to have fun on the court and play well.”
With 3:34 left, Williams and Nurse left the game to another standing ovation.
“From the time she walked on campus, Kia has been an amazing competitor,” Auriemma said. “She didn’t start the first couple games her freshman year and we lost one of them and she has only lost one since. She’s an unbelievable competitor, that is the best way I can describe it.
“Watching Gabby play, the people that came out to watch her play in person, it’s pretty special when she’s doing some of the things she does. There just haven’t been a lot of players, and I’ve seen a lot of players, that can get a crowd excited like she does. And it’s not just at one end of the floor. She’s come a long way in four years.”
The Huskies will begin their bid for a fifth consecutive AAC tournament title on Sunday at 6:30 p.m. with a quarterfinal contest at Mohegan Sun Arena against either No. 8 Memphis and ninth-seeded Tulane.
Williams and Nurse are now 141-2 since their arrival at UConn. But while Monday night was their last regular season game at Gampel, they could have two more outings here during the NCAA Tournament.
But all they’re looking at is what they hope is three games at the casino.
“We have a day off and we’ll take that,” Nurse said. “But as soon as we get back to practice, we’ll be focused on what’s ahead.”
UConn senior Williams and junior Katie Lou Samuelson are among 10 semifinalists for the Naismith Trophy as national Player of the Year.
Samuelson, who won the Naismith as the top high school player in 2015, is averaging 18.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 3.8 assists for the Huskies (29-0), while Williams checks in at 10.7 points, 7.7 rebounds, 5.3 assists, and 2.6 steals per game. Four finalists will be announced March 16.
Nurse is one of five finalists for the Nancy Lieberman Award as the nation’s top point guard. She is averaging 14.5 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 3.0 assists. The winner will be announced March 30.