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UConn Women’s Basketball Postgame Notes: Olivia Nelson-Ododa dominates in second half against Oklahoma

The Huskies’ offense came to life in the second half and after the game, the team got a message from their recovering head coach.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

By UConn women’s basketball’s impossible standards, this has been a trying season so far. Despite being ranked as the No. 2 team in the country entering Sunday, it hasn’t looked the part of a classic, dominant UConn team. But for 20 minutes against Oklahoma, the Huskies showed a flash of their dizzying potential. And it started with Olivia Nelson-Ododa.

Through the first half, the sophomore’s stat line was certainly impressive with six points, seven rebounds and three blocks but she still left a lot to be desired. The Sooners’ four players over 6-foot-2 combined to play just two and a half minutes, meaning Nelson-Ododa had at least four inches on anyone defending her most of the time. But she took just six shots, including one from beyond the arc.

Out of the locker room, the Huskies made a concerted effort to get Nelson-Ododa more involved in the post and once she did, it was all over for Oklahoma. The sophomore couldn’t be stopped, racking up 19 points, eight rebounds and blocking four shots over the final 20 minutes.

“She’s really tall and really good,” OU head coach Sherri Coale said of Nelson-Ododa. “We didn’t have an answer for her...we’d have her blocked down and she just jumps over us and tips it or comes up with it. She got going and got to feeling really good today and that’s part of where the wheels fell off for us.”

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

Nelson-Ododa’s prowess as a rebounder and a shot blocker is already well-established. But her offensive game made a jump over the summer and has taken tangible steps forward each of the last three games. Against Notre Dame, she set a career-high with 16 points. The next game, she beat that mark with 19 points. And for the third game in a row against Oklahoma, Nelson-Ododa reset her high-water mark with 27 points.

“She was a monster today,” Megan Walker said. “I was like ‘Okay Liv.’ She had a block party.”

All three of those games happened after classes ended, with the latter two after the end of the semester. Dailey believes only having to worry about basketball is helping to power Nelson-Ododa’s breakthrough.

“With school being over, I think her total focus is on basketball now and I think she’s concentrating and working a little bit harder to improve on the areas we need her to improve on,” Dailey said. “She’s always been a defensive presence, she didn’t really have a dumb foul (on Sunday) in terms of trying to block a shot with the wrong hand or do something that put us in jeopardy. I think she’s getting better as a defender.”

At the same time, that improvement is a direct result of Nelson-Ododa’s one-on-one work with Dailey. When the media is allowed into practice prior to games, the pair are often working together. According to Nelson-Ododa, that has nearly become part of her daily routine.

“It’s very consistent,” she said. “Whether it’s pre-practice or after-practice workouts, just taking everything in and breaking it down has helped.”

After Stanford’s loss to Texas, UConn is now the No. 1 team in the country. To this point, the Huskies haven’t proven themselves to be the best team in the nation. But if Nelson-Ododa plays anywhere near the same level that she did against Oklahoma on a night-in, night-out basis, the Huskies may start to resemble one of those classic, dominant UConn teams once again.

Second Half Explosion

In the first half, UConn’s defense couldn’t have performed much better. The Huskies limited the ninth-best scoring offense in the country to just 21 points on 8-of-38 shooting with only four makes from three. In the second quarter, Oklahoma went scoreless for eight of the 10 minutes.

Despite that, UConn went into halftime with only a 13 point lead. The defense held up its end of the bargain but the offense lagged behind with just 34 points while shooting 42.9 percent. While most coaches’ first instinct is to make changes, Dailey didn’t think that was the right move.

“Sometimes when it doesn’t work, we’re so quick to move on and try something else instead of sticking with what should work,” she said. “If we execute, it will work and I thought the difference was in the second half, we stayed with some things and we executed.”

Walker explained that in the first half, Oklahoma solved the Huskies’ offense and predicted what was coming. The adjustments in the second half weren’t a matter of overhauling anything. In fact, it was just the opposite.

“We stuck with the majority of the same plays, it was just different reads,” Walker said. “We run concepts so it’s not an exact play. So you pass it here, you do this. If you pass it up top, you do this so we just adjusted what we were doing out of the same set.”

But it wasn’t just about plays or offensive philosophy. UConn’s offense runs through Walker and in the first half, she had just six points. It took all of 3:12 for her to eclipse that total in the third quarter as the junior came alive, driving to the rim, launching it from three or pulling up for shots in-between.

“I feel like I was aggressive in the first half and in the second, I think I was just getting denied a little bit harder in the first half and in the second half they relaxed so I just knocked in open jump shots,” Walker said casually of her 17-point performance.

As a whole, the Huskies scored 63 of their 97 points in the final two frames, making over a third of their shots as well. UConn was on pace for an easy, if unspectacular victory after 20 minutes. But it decided that wasn’t enough and finished with its season-high point total.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

Geno Joins in Spirit...and on FaceTime

Geno Auriemma may not have been present at the game but it didn’t take long for him to give his two cents after the final buzzer. When the team got back into the locker room, Dailey had a text waiting Auriemma with two simple words: “Call me.”

“I went ‘Oh god,’” Dailey said. “I went to Catholic school so my first thought was ‘What did I do wrong?’”

The two spoke about the game briefly before she put Auriemma on FaceTime so he could talk to the entire team in the locker room. It didn’t take long to figure out that the coach is starting to feel like his normal self.

“He was making fun of us, like ‘I almost fell out of my chair when somebody did such and such,’” Walker said. “Me going in for offensive rebounds, Liv not going Hollywood after her big game, just stuff like that.”

“He did his famous backhanded compliments bit,” Dangerfield added.

Necessary ribbing aside, Auriemma was very pleased with his team’s performance by all accounts.

“He’s just very proud of us,” Dailey relayed.

“He was thrilled with how we played and that’s a good thing,” Dangerfield echoed.

Overall, Auriemma’s recovery is coming along well. The coach went to campus for a short visit on Saturday to see the team and wish them a happy holidays before everyone scattered for the break.

While there’s no official timetable from the school, all indications point to Auriemma being back to full health and on the sidelines in the near future.

Quote of the Day

“She’s such a good kid. You can’t even get mad at her because when you get mad she does this little smile and you forget why you’re mad at her.” - Chris Dailey on Aubrey Griffin, who finished with 14 points and five rebounds.