BY EMERSON MARCUS
RENO, Nev. (AP) — Gabby Williams had a successful homecoming, having one of her best games this season.
Williams scored 18 points and No. 1 UConn beat Nevada 88-57 on Tuesday night.
It was a season-high for Williams, who was playing her first game at Nevada’s Lawlor Events Center since she led her high school team to a state title in 2012. Her father, Matt, and sister, Kayla, both played basketball at Nevada.
“It was weird,” Williams said. “It was kind of like the Twilight Zone a little bit. I used to be here all the time, every week, watching my sister play, up in that front row, right where my parents were sitting, where my sister was today. Then having so many people messaging me and texting me, people I haven’t heard from since high school. Pretty cool that they still welcome me.”
UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said he first looked into playing at Nevada when then-Wolf Pack head coach Jane Albright called him after Williams left to play in Connecticut.
“We try to (do that), for the good players, anyway,” Auriemma said. “We want to go back home and show them off.”
“The defensive part is what really stands out most of the time when you see Gabby play,” he said. “She just creates a lot for us. She plays the way Lawrence Taylor played linebacker. Single-handedly, she can ruin a team.”
Williams likened the atmosphere in Reno on Tuesday to a “circus,” but said she prepared strategically as if it were any other game.
“She was little excited and a little bit nervous,” Auriemma said. “She wanted to make it perfect and I was worried she would try too hard to make it perfect. But the trip went about the way she wanted it to. … She had a great night.”
Aside from Williams, Kia Nurse’s perfect night from beyond the arc was the difference in the game, Nevada head coach Amanda Levens said. Nurse scored 27 points and was 8-for-8 from the 3-point line.
“She kind of picks her spots and she’ll hurt you if you don’t guard her,” Levens said. “But she is not somebody who is going to just take over a game with one-on-one play. She just did a great job today when we tried to shut down the other action. … She was the big difference in this game hitting all those threes.”
Azura Stevens added 17 points and 14 rebounds for the Huskies (6-0), who shot 63 percent from the field.
It was the highest-ranked team that Nevada ever played and the game drew 7,815 fans_the most in state history for a women’s game.
UConn jumped out to a 31-12 lead after the first quarter, but Nevada (3-3) didn’t go away. The Wolf Pack constantly challenged the Huskies and got them to turn the ball over 17 times.
Teige Zeller led Nevada with 17 points. Sophomore Camariah King added 15 points, hitting five of six 3-pointers.
UConn is the highest ranked team a Nevada women’s basketball team has ever played. The previously highest-ranked team Nevada played was then-No. 4 Louisiana Tech in 1987.
“I’m excited about the crowd we had tonight,” Levens said. “Our Community, especially the people that haven’t seen us play, if you enjoy team basketball and a team that has its backs, I think they will really enjoy watching us play. I’m excited about the foundation of a bigger fan base that I really think we can build on from this game.”
Nurse’s performance was the second-best in UConn history from behind the arc. Katie Lou Samuelson, who is sidelined with a midfoot sprain, made all 10 of her 3s in the American Athletic Conference championship game last season.
UConn: Auriemma won the 997th game of his career. He’s three victories short of becoming the third women’s basketball coach to reach the 1,000 victory mark.
Nevada: Nevada played its first nationally televised game in program history. … The previous highest-ranked team Nevada played was then-No. 4 Louisiana Tech in 1987.
UConn: The Huskies return home Sunday to face No. 3 Notre Dame in the Jimmy V Classic.
Nevada: The Wolf Pack head to the Maui Classic for a first-round matchup Friday against No. 21 Oregon State.
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