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Kia Nurse of the University of Connecticut Huskies drives to the basket against dribbles as Notre Dame's Arike Ogunbowale, right, on Dec. 3, 2017, in Hartford, Conn.

Jessica Hill/THE CANADIAN PRESS

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.

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"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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That loss ended an amazing run of 111 consecutive victories for UConn, whose women's basketball program is one of the most successful in all of sport, regardless of gender, in NCAA history. The Huskies' 11 national titles has it tied with the UCLA Bruins men's team for most all-time among U.S. college basketball teams.

From a Canadian perspective that is still second to the 13 USports national crowns won by Ottawa's Carleton Ravens men's basketball team.

Nurse said that bitter ending to the 2016-17 season has only helped steel the Huskies for another championship run this year.

"I think for the players who are back it's a sore spot and one you can use for motivation," Nurse said. "You kind of have a chip on your shoulder."

Duquesne goes into the game with a record of 10-2, including eight straight wins.

The groundwork for the game was laid over the summer, led by Carly Clarke, the women's basketball coach at Ryerson who also coaches on the national level for Canada Basketball.

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Duquesne played an exhibition game at Ryerson three years ago against Notre Dame and enjoyed the experience and was looking to do so again over the Christmas break.

As for UConn, it tries to arrange a game at a graduating senior's home town every year as part of its recruiting tactics, so the fit was right for Ryerson, which benefits from the exposure of playing host to the two NCAA teams.

"We want it not to just be about UConn-Duquesne and NCAA women's basketball, but about Ryerson athletics and Ryerson women's basketball," Clarke said. "It helps to showcase our facility, our university and the type of experience we can offer here."

Clarke said Ryerson negotiated an appearance fee with both schools, which also covers transportation and accommodations, to come to Toronto. While the amount of that appearance fee is not disclosed, one basketball official with strong ties to university sports in Toronto said he would be surprised if Ryerson paid out any more than $20,000.

Clarke did say that Ryerson only needed to sell about 1,900 tickets to break even.

Nurse said she can't wait to play again in Toronto and anticipates that UConn will have the home-court advantage.

"My team can be Canadian just for one night," she said.

Team Homan and Team Koe will represent Canada at the 2018 Games after winning the Olympic curling trials on Sunday. Team Koe lead Ben Hebert says there is 'a lot of work to do' ahead of the Pyeongchang Games. The Canadian Press
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