By: Pat Eaton-Robb
AP Sports Writer
STORRS, Conn. (AP) UConn’s Kia Nurse heard the boasts from Syracuse that it would bring the best backcourt in America into Monday night’s second-round rematch of last year’s national championship game.
She used that as motivation.
The junior guard scored 29 points and tied an NCAA Tournament record with nine 3-pointers to lead UConn to a 94-64 win over the Orange.
The boasting “allows you to play with a bit of a chip on your shoulder,” she said. “For us, we like to prove it with the way that we play.”
Nurse hit 10 of her 13 shots, missing three attempts from behind the arc for the Huskies, who won for the 109th straight time and 26th straight in the NCAA Tournament. That streak includes last April’s 82-51 win over the Orange that gave the Huskies their fourth consecutive title.
Gabby Williams and Katie Lou Samuelson each added 23 points and Napheesa Collier chipped in with 17 for UConn (34-0), which led by as many as 36 points.
The Huskies shot 62 percent from the floor, 52 percent from 3-point range and had 30 assists on their 33 baskets.
Geno Auriemma said the performance had him shaking his head in awe.
“Those first three quarters I just thought we were about as good as we can be in a lot of the areas you need to be good in this time of the year,” he said.
Alexis Peterson had 25 points to lead Syracuse, which finished its season at 22-11. Backcourt mate Brittney Sykes added 15 and Briana Day had 13 for the Orange.
“We didn’t expect to be going home,” said Syracuse Coach Quentin Hillsman. “We’re extremely disappointed.”
UConn held Syracuse without a field goal for more than 3 1/2 minutes early in the first quarter and used a 9-0 run to build an 18-7 lead.
The Huskies hit 12 of their first 18 shots and led 28-11 after a fast-break bucket at the first-quarter buzzer by Crystal Dangerfield.
A 3-pointer by Nurse gave UConn its first 20-point lead at 31-11 and another pushed the lead to 30 at 55-25.
Nurse, who missed the final four games of the regular season with a stress injury in her right ankle, had eight 3-pointers and 26 points by halftime and the Huskies led 57-29.
Her ninth 3-pointer, a bank shot, put UConn up 66-37 in the third quarter and tied her with Purdue’s Courtney Moses, who had nine in the 2012 tournament.
“Once you see one or two go in the net, you shoot it with confidence,” she said. “Confidence is half the battle.”
Peterson finishes her career ranked second in team history in scoring 1,978, behind Kayla Alexander, who scored 2,024 points between 2010-2013. Sykes ranks third on that list with 1,846. The duo has averaged a combined 42 points and 10.5 assists this season for the Orange.
“I think the mark that we’ve left is that we aspire to inspire,” Peterson said. “No matter what the odds are, no matter what we’re faced with, we’re tough.”
UConn has advanced to the regional semifinals for the 24th straight season and are now 25-2 overall in the second round. The Huskies also have been to 11 consecutive regional finals and nine straight Final Fours.
OFF THE GLASS
Auriemma couldn’t help but tease Nurse about her final 3-pointer, which went in off the glass and leading her shrug her shoulders and a smirk on the way back down the court.
“Usually when Kia hits the side of the backboard in practice it goes out of bounds,” Auriemma said. “This time it happened to go in, so you knew it was a big night for us.”
Nurse acknowledged she didn’t call the bank shot.
“We’re just going to take it, because I’m not sure how it went in, she said.
PASSING IT UP
Nurse had an open look to break the single game 3-point record at the end of the third quarter, but instead found a wide-open Collier underneath for a layup.
“Those are the plays that you have to make,” Nurse said. “It might not have mattered at that point in the game, but somewhere down the stretch that could be a huge play. It might be a tight game, you have an open 3, make a decision and get the easy two. So I think if you make those decisions and they become habit now they’ll help you down the stretch.”
UConn and Syracuse have faced each other 51 times, with the Huskies winning 39 of those games. The Huskies have won 25 straight and 32 of 33 against Syracuse. They last loss to the Orange on Jan. 7, 1997.
UConn will play the winner of the second round game between fifth-seeded Texas A&M and fourth-seeded UCLA Saturday in Bridgeport.
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