Jan. 21—Much of the noise around the UConn women's 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 East's better all-around seasons.
Heading into tonight's conference matchup with Seton Hall at Gampel Pavilion, the senior center ranks in the Big East's 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.
"I feel as a player I'm most proud of my maturity and growth," Nelson-Ododa said on Thursday. "Points, 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."
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 UConn's 72-59 loss to Oregon on Monday. She became the 50th member of the Huskies' 1,000-point club in the first half.
The Winder, Georgia native raised her scoring average to 10.1, the first time this season it's 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).
"I would say staying aggressive," Nelson-Ododa said when asked where's she made the most progress as a senior. "That's the big difference in this season for me. I'm trying to stay in attack mode and stay aggressive for the most part. It's definitely a mentality thing just coming out trying to be as locked in the best I can with my teammates."
She is a two-time finalist for the Lisa Leslie Award that is given to the nation's 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 UConn's loss to Arizona in the 2021 NCAA Final Four semifinals in San Antonio.
Tonight isn't the big stage as we're 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.
"I think if you asked Liv she would say, 'I'm disappointed in some of the games I have played in my career,' " UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. I think she has improved in some area of the game each year she has been here.
"Going forward she should be a better shooter than she is. She makes more in practice than she does in games. She's very comfortable taking that midrange jump shot. I'll see her practice threes during our shooting drills and she'll make 20 out of 25. Then in the game she's reluctant to shoot it. I think that's 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 can't get 14-15 points from Liv every night with 8-9 rebounds."
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 Huskies' 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) hasn't beaten UConn since 1994 but has to believe it is catching the Huskies the right time. So how will UConn respond?
"After a game like Monday's, especially playing for a program where we don't really take many losses in a season, it's very difficult," Nelson-Ododa said. "You're constantly replaying, 'What could I have done? What should I have done? What moments went wrong? What moments went right?' That part as a player, you tend to over think about it.
"Moving forward it's about getting into the right mental state by talking with your teammates, talking with your coaches about it. That's the key part rather than just going over the should-haves."
For coverage of all sports in the JI's 18-town coverage area, plus updates on the UConn women's basketball team and head coach Geno Auriemma, follow Carl Adamec on Twitter: @CarlAdamec, Facebook: Carl Adamec, and Instagram: @CarlAdamec.