Canadian UConn star Kia Nurse thrilled to play 'home' game in Toronto

Canada's Kia Nurse and her UConn Huskies face the Duquesne Dukes on Friday at Toronto's Mattamy Athletic Centre in a game that will showcase the NCAA's finest women's team.

Hamilton, Ont., native will have friends and family present at Ryerson on Friday

University of Connecticut star Kia Nurse, left, from Hamilton, Ont., is thrilled with the opportunity to play a game close to home when her Huskies take on Duquesne at Ryerson University on Friday. (Timothy J. Gonzalez/Associated Press)

Kia Nurse first noticed some chatter around a potential game in Toronto on Twitter last summer.

Still, when the University of Connecticut Huskies officially announced a Dec. 22 "hometown" game in honour of Nurse, it took the Canadian women's basketball star by surprise.

"That was kind of an 'oh my gosh' moment," Nurse said. "I remember sending screen shots of it to my family, like 'I don't know what's going on, but this is serious."'

Nurse and her Huskies face the Duquesne Dukes on Friday at Toronto's Mattamy Athletic Centre, normally home to the Ryerson Rams, in game that will showcase the NCAA's finest women's team.

For the 21-year-old from Hamilton, it's a chance to play in front of her family and friends in the Huskies blue and white, and a moment she never saw coming.

"For me, it's mind-blowing," Nurse said from Storrs, Conn., earlier this week. "Every college kid usually gets a home game, and I was expecting mine to be maybe in Michigan because it's kind of close. But I'm so fortunate (my coaches) decided to put it smack dab in the centre of Toronto. My grandparents have never seen me play in a UConn uniform, so it's really exciting and really special.

"My coaches did it on their own, they scheduled it and didn't tell me . . . and it was awesome."

Ranked No. 1

The Huskies (9-0) are ranked No. 1 in the NCAA, and Nurse is a big reason why. The senior guard is shooting a sizzling 54 per cent from three-point range — second in the NCAA — and was recently two baskets shy of tying the NCAA for consecutive three-pointers. Nurse hit 12 in a row, including going 8-for-8 in a win over Nevada.

"I've really put a lot of effort into my three-point shot, and that's been falling a lot easier for me, so when you have a lot of confidence in your shot, that's half the battle of trying to get it go in," Nurse said.

Nurse led Canada to gold at the 2015 Pan Am Games on the same Mattamy Athletic Centre court, and was named Canada's flag bearer at the Pan Am closing ceremonies.

A capacity crowd of 2,500-plus will watch Friday's game, and Nurse is excited to showcase the women's game at the top college level — particularly for the young girls who will in attendance.

Nurse sprinkles Geno Auriemma with confetti on Tuesday after the Huskies coach earned his 1,000th win. (Jessica Hill/Associated Press)

"Social media is so different today, you can see all these women's basketball players, and watch their highlights," Nurse said. "We didn't really have that when I was growing up. The only thing they showed on TV at home was the Raptors, a couple NBA games here and there, and then hockey. So, who are you really going to look at?

"My sister (Tamika, nine years her senior) was a big role model for me. I wanted to be just like her, she was really good, she played on the national team, so I knew if I kept following in her footsteps, then some day I might have a chance to do it."

Nurse was in the seventh grade, she believes, when she saw WNBA star Maya Moore and the Huskies win an NCAA title.

"That was the day where I was like 'I would love to go to UConn. I don't think I could do it, but I would love to do that if I could,"' she said.

Almost a decade later, time has flown by.

"I looked around the other day, and thought 'I have three months of college basketball left. That's it. And then I go into the real world.' I looked at the freshman, and you think you have forever, you really do, and then it just flies."

Nurse has helped the Huskies capture two NCAA titles. The Huskies are 11-time NCAA champions, but were upset by 66-64 Mississippi State in last season's Final Four.

Nurse will enter the WNBA draft after this season, then split time between the WNBA and Canada's women's team, in its quest for a third consecutive Olympic berth.

Duquesne's roster features a pair of Canadians in sophomore guards Halle Bovell (Hamilton) and Anie-Pier Samson (Saint-Bruno, Que.).