Much of the noise around the UConn womenâs basketball team since the start of the season has been about injuries and inconsistency.
Through all the turmoil, however, Olivia Nelson-Ododa is putting together one of the Big Eastâs better all-around seasons.
Heading into tonightâs conference matchup with Seton Hall at Gampel Pavilion, the senior center ranks in the Big Eastâs Top 10 in six statistical categories - field-goal percentage, rebounds, assists, assist-to-turnover ratio, steals, and blocked shots. Not including Paige Bueckers, who has played only six games due to a left knee injury, Nelson-Ododa leads the ninth-ranked Huskies in five of those six categories. She is second to Evina Westbrook in assists.
No UConn center has led the team in assists or in steals for a season.
âI feel as a player Iâm most proud of my maturity and growth,â Nelson-Ododa said on Thursday. âPoints, rebounds and this and that are great to hear about and see, but my own personal development is the thing that stands out to me the most.â
Nelson-Ododa is coming off one of her better games of the season as she had 17 points on 7-for-9 shooting from the floor, eight rebounds, six assists to one turnover, three blocked shots, and two steals in 33 minutes in UConnâs 72-59 loss to Oregon on Monday. She became the 50th member of the Huskiesâ 1,000-point club in the first half.
The Winder, Georgia native raised her scoring average to 10.1, the first time this season itâs been double figures. She ranks second in the Big East in field-goal percentage (60.2), sixth in rebounds (7.3), ninth in assists (3.7), fifth in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.7), eighth in steals (1.5), and first in blocked shots (2.2).
âI would say staying aggressive,â Nelson-Ododa said when asked whereâs she made the most progress as a senior. âThatâs the big difference in this season for me. Iâm trying to stay in attack mode and stay aggressive for the most part. Itâs definitely a mentality thing just coming out trying to be as locked in the best I can with my teammates.â
She is a two-time finalist for the Lisa Leslie Award that is given to the nationâs top center and was the 2021 Big East Co-Defensive Player of the Year. She ranks eighth all-time at UConn in blocked shots with 238 and with 746 rebounds she is 18 away from moving into the Top 20 in that category.
The knock on Nelson-Ododa is her performances on big stages. She was a non-factor in UConnâs loss to Arizona in the 2021 NCAA Final Four semifinals in San Antonio.
Tonight isnât the big stage as weâre still in January but it is a big game for UConn (9-4, 4-0 Big East) as it will try to stay atop the conference standings without the injured Bueckers, Azzi Fudd, and Aubrey Griffin. Senior guard Christyn Williams is sidelined for the second consecutive game as she is in COVID-19 protocols.
âI think if you asked Liv she would say, âIâm disappointed in some of the games I have played in my career,â â UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. I think she has improved in some area of the game each year she has been here.
âGoing forward she should be a better shooter than she is. She makes more in practice than she does in games. Sheâs very comfortable taking that midrange jump shot. Iâll see her practice threes during our shooting drills and sheâll make 20 out of 25. Then in the game sheâs reluctant to shoot it. I think thatâs an element of the game that if she would add it, it would change her and change our team. There is no reason why we canât get 14-15 points from Liv every night with 8-9 rebounds.â
UConn scored the first 10 points against Oregon Monday only to be outscored by 25 the remainder of the first half. It trailed by as many as 24 in the second half.
It was the Huskiesâ second loss to an unranked team this season after having it not happen for almost a decade. It was also the second time this season they lost a game by double figures that they once led by double figures. Before this season, that had not happened since 2001.
Seton Hall (8-7, 3-4) hasnât beaten UConn since 1994 but has to believe it is catching the Huskies the right time. So how will UConn respond?
âAfter a game like Mondayâs, especially playing for a program where we donât really take many losses in a season, itâs very difficult,â Nelson-Ododa said. âYouâre constantly replaying, âWhat could I have done? What should I have done? What moments went wrong? What moments went right?â That part as a player, you tend to over think about it.
âMoving forward itâs about getting into the right mental state by talking with your teammates, talking with your coaches about it. Thatâs the key part rather than just going over the should-haves.â