Megan Walker, Crystal Dangerfield and Christyn Williams lead the Huskies in points per game with over 14 each. However, it’s Olivia Nelson-Ododa that makes it all possible.
Saturday against UCF, Nelson-Ododa left the game in the early fourth quarter with her nose buried in a blood-soaked towel. UConn made just three field goals after ONO left the game.
After last week’s 74-31 win over Tulane, Aureimma said, “There was no one on the floor that could handle Liv. So, the strategy was, ‘Liv, run as fast as you can down to the block, post up and you guys better throw it to her.’”
Having that skilled and intelligent post-presence to get the ball in to collapse the defense is the cornerstone of UConn’s offense, and it really always has been.
“That’s the strategy we’ve had for 30 years here. I can probably name you every single player that we’ve ever had that played four years at Connecticut and I told them, ‘Just run from the foul line down to the block and call for the ball,’ and they became an All-American,” Auriemma said.
When you think about it, UConn has always had that skilled big that they feed down low. From the block, that big then has the choice to take their defender 1-on-1 with their arsenal of moves, or find one of the Huskies’ many talented perimeter players spaced out around the arc or making a calculated cut.
Before ONO, it was Napheesa Collier. Before Collier, it was Breanna Stewart. The list goes on and on back through the years.
“Throw it to Liv. If you can’t, throw it to that guy and throw it to Liv. It’s the old Kara Wolters offense,” Auriemma said. “We’ll get it to her somehow, someway. If we do it, there’s nobody that can handle her on the court.”
Nelson-Ododa was dominant against UCF, but was only able to play 25 minutes with a combination of early foul trouble and the injury keeping her out for the last 8:23. She had the highest plus-minus on the team with 14, while her replacements at the center position of Kyla Irwin and Aubrey Griffin had -1 and 4, respectively.
“We aren’t big enough and we don’t have anybody to take Liv’s place when she gets in foul trouble,” Auriemma said.
In the 7:30 of the first quarter that she played, ONO made three shots close to the basket. Then, once the defense was forced to help on her, she dished out three assists on two 3-pointers and a layup to Walker.
“It’s not that complicated. You have to be willing to run fast, be strong in the post and you have to have guys that can throw you the ball. There are times that we look at Liv and it’s like we’re looking at a ghost,” Auriemma said. “She’s wide open guys, throw it to her.”
She made another basket early in the second quarter before picking up a couple of fouls and heading to the bench. She then picked up two more assists in the third quarter, until the injury happened less than two minutes into the fourth.
“If the ball doesn’t get inside the lane, you can never get an open three. You’re not just going to come down and throw the ball around the perimeter and get open,” Auriemma said.
Nine of UConn’s 12 made 3-pointers against UCF came with Nelson-Ododa on the court. Three of her five assists were 3-point shots, and the other two were to Walker cutting to the basket.
Keeping Liv healthy and out of foul trouble will be essential to UConn’s success going forward. Even with all of the talent around her, keeping ONO on the floor will maximize the Huskies’ ability to score.
Without her, they struggled against UCF. Now think about when they play the Baylors, Oregons and South Carolinas of the world.