UConn women’s basketball kicked off its exhibition slate on Sunday, dispatching the Jefferson Rams 103-40. Even the players would admit that preseason games are little more than glorified practices, but still, there is plenty we can take from the Huskies’ first live action of the 2019-2020 season.
In an all-around solid performance from the Huskies, no player stood out more than Megan Walker. Even after a good sophomore year, Walker looked like a new player. She didn’t just take the points that came to her, she went out and got them herself.
Walker played with an energy and aggressiveness that we’ve only seen in spurts to this point. Her 28 points were a team-high. Walker didn’t just look like a former No. 1 recruit. If she can play near the level that she did today during the regular season, Walker is going to be one of the best players in the country.
Nelson-Ododa does it all
Considering the fact that Jefferson didn’t have a player taller than 6-foot-1, Olivia Nelson-Ododa could’ve sleepwalked to 10 points and 10 rebounds in this game. Instead, she came out and flourished with 16 points, 11 rebounds, five blocks and five steals.
Defensively, she was the anchor for the huskies and didn’t restrict herself to just the paint. Nelson-Ododa moved around the floor, disrupting dribbles, shots and passes wherever she went. She made the space inside the arc a no-go zone for Jefferson in the first quarter, forcing it to heave up nine of 15 shots from three.
Offensively, it was harder to get an accurate read on Nelson-Ododa’s performance. The Rams had no way of defending her down low and Nelson-Ododa scored simply because she was taller than everyone else. However, she did finish second on the team with four assists, something we didn’t see much from her last year.
While it would’ve been good to see her score points in a variety of ways and her touch off the glass still looks heavy, it was still a strong starting point for the sophomore center.
Bench looks competent
Over the past few years, the fourth quarter of blowouts have been nothing short of an adventure for the Huskies. When the game is well in-hand, Geno Auriemma will pull his starters and give the bench players a chance. The results haven’t been very pretty.
But in the exhibition, every player that took the court looked comfortable and knew what they were doing. The positives outweighed the negatives with no reserve committing more than two turnovers and the only major blemish being Evelyn Adebayo’s one-of-seven performance from the field.
Molly Bent was the first player off the bench and looked as confident as she ever has in a UConn uniform. She was comfortable with the ball in her hands, distributed it well and didn’t force any passes.
While Adebayo didn’t shoot well and played the fewest minutes of any player, she still contributed six rebounds and two assists. Kyla Irwin and Audrey Griffin both scored in double-figures as well.
The Huskies don’t need any superstars off the bench, just players that can come in and keep the ship steady while the starters get a breather. The reserves showed they were capable of that against a Division II opponent, now the question is if they can keep it up once the games matter.
In their unofficial college debuts, both UConn’s freshmen put in positive performances. Anna Makurat claimed the fifth spot in the starting lineup and settled in after shaking off some early jitters. She couldn’t get her outside shot to fall (0-5 from three) but she still racked up nine points with a handful of strong drives to the basket.
Griffin took until the four quarter to really get going but quickly showed why Auriemma regards her so highly. In one sequence, she stole an inbounds pass, missed a layup, grabbed her own rebound and then finally put it in the bucket. She seemed to play a little too fast at times and missed some easy shots but made up for it by grabbing five offensive rebounds.
The Huskies certainly know contributions from freshmen aren’t a given. But Griffin and Makurat’s start is a good foundation for both of them to work off as the regular season approaches.
Camara out indefinitely
Aside from Evina Westbrook, the only other player not to play for UConn was redshirt senior Batouly Camara. After the game, Auriemma said Camara will undergo a clean up procedure on her knee in the next day or two. There is no timetable for her return.
Since transferring to UConn from Kentucky after her freshman season, Camara has struggled to stay healthy and missed time each of the last two seasons.
When she’s been on the court, Camara hasn’t made much of an impact. She has played just 230 minutes, averaging 1.4 points and 1.2 rebounds in 48 career games. Camara was unlikely to see major minutes with Evelyn Adebayo and Aubrey Griffin also in the picture, but she would have provided additional depth.
Update: The school announced on Monday that Camara underwent a successful left knee scope that will keep her out six-to-eight weeks.