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Kia Nurse brings UConn home for the holidays

With Kia Nurse’s stellar four-year basketball career at the University of Connecticut drawing to a close, it seems fitting that the institution would want to honour the Canadian with a special game.

That game will be on Friday night in Toronto at Ryerson University’s Mattamy Athletic Centre, when the powerhouse Huskies will play the Duquesne University Dukes in an out-of-country matchup featuring two NCAA Division-1 opponents.

For Nurse, 21, who hails from nearby Hamilton, the opportunity will afford her the chance to play before what can reasonably expected to be a welcoming home-town crowd.

“It’s something that I didn’t expect to happen,” Nurse said during an interview earlier this week. “When it was announced in the summertime, I was extremely excited. I’m very fortunate to have the coaches I do, who go out of their way to try and give me a home game.

“And I always thought, ‘Okay maybe it would be in Michigan, that’s close enough.’ But to be dead in the centre of Toronto is absolutely incredible and I’m very fortunate for this opportunity.”

Nurse will have plenty of family and friends from the Hamilton area on hand for the game, including her grandparents, who have never seen her play live while wearing a UConn jersey. “There will be a lot of people in the stands from the Hammer,” she said, using a nickname for her home town.

While university athletics in Toronto are often played in near-empty gymnasiums and hockey arenas, the basketball game featuring two U.S.-based teams is sold out. About 2,500 tickets, priced between $25.75 and $36.25, have been sold for the event at the former Maple Leaf Gardens.

Many will be there just to see Nurse, a six-foot guard who has been on the Canadian women’s senior basketball team since she was 16. Her most celebrated moment with the team was on the Mattamy court in the summer of 2015 when she erupted for 33 points during a thrilling 81-73 win over the United States to earn Canada the gold medal at the Pan American Games.

Her career at Connecticut, the No. 1 ranked team in the United States with a perfect 9-0 record this season, has been enthralling.

She helped guide the Huskies to consecutive NCAA championships in her first two seasons, only to see a third fall just short last year with a dramatic overtime loss to Mississippi State in the semi-final.

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