UConn women’s basketball is in the midst of a five-game road trip — the program’s longest in over 40 years. Normally, the time spent away from home can help a team bond by eating team meals together, doing activities at the hotel, and, if time allows, exploring the city they’re in. But this isn’t a normal year.
“It’s nothing like it used to be,” head coach Geno Auriemma shared. “They’re missing out on a lot.”
When the Huskies traveled down to Washington DC to play Georgetown a couple of weeks ago, Auriemma decided to take the team out to dinner for the first time all season — typically a far more frequent occurrence.
“It was cool. We rented out the whole restaurant and it was just us in there and Coach [Auriemma] was saying that in other years they would usually be doing this, try to find the best spots in the city to go out to eat. So it was good to go out together as if it was a normal year,” Aaliyah Edwards said.
Auriemma hopes to do something similar at the end of this week when they head to Indianapolis to face Butler in their final true road of the season — with the proper precautions, of course.
“We’re very careful where we go. [We rent a] private dining room, everybody’s taking all the precautions, everybody’s masked up, all the social distancing part and all that,” Auriemma said. “We can’t do a lot of the things that that we really, really enjoy doing that make the travel a lot more bearable.”
At least for now they can leave the hotel on road trips. That’ll change once the postseason begins, starting at Mohegan Sun for the Big East Tournament.
“So far it’s been unlike any other season and once we get into the conference tournament and the bubble at Mohegan is going to be even worse. And then the NCAA tournament is going to be even worse. So you don’t have much to look forward to other than the actual games,” Auriemma said.
It’s nothing that players haven’t gotten used to, though. Even when they’re on campus, they’re essentially forced to stay in a bubble and can’t go anywhere besides their apartments or the gym for the most part.
The road trips at least provide a change of scenery, plus they feature associate head coach Chris Dailey’s famous trivia games. It’s partly educational and partly for fun, though the latter typically wins out.
“It’s supposed to be an educational thing, teaching them new things, new words, new ideas,” Auriemma said last season. “Instead it turns into a comedy show. The best part of the trivia is seven or eight people saying ‘I can’t believe you just said that.’”
Even with the pandemic and restrictions on the team, trivia has survived into this season and is still one of the players’ favorite activities to pass the time.
“I think when CD decides to do trivia and her little activities I think that’s always fun for us,” Olivia Nelson-Ododa said.
Since the preseason, Auriemma has praised how tight-knit the group is off the court. That has held true throughout the campaign but becomes especially important when the Huskies hit the road.
“It’s not like it’s forced, I mean it happens naturally anyway,” Nelson-Ododa said. “That’s one of my favorite parts about this team — the bonds that we have and stuff, especially going on the road. It just makes it super fun you know on top of playing.
Three signees named McDonald’s All-Americans
All three of UConn women’s basketball’s 2021 signees still in high school have been named McDonald’s All-Americans. Amari DeBerry, Caroline Ducharme, and Azzi Fudd were all selected to the 24-player roster, though the annual game will not be held due to COVID-19. Saylor Poffenbarger, the fourth member of the class, was not eligible after joining the Huskies midseason.
Six of UConn’s current players have previously earned the honor: Juniors Evina Westbrook, Olivia Nelson-Ododa and Christyn Williams, sophomore Aubrey Griffin, and freshmen Paige Bueckers and Mir McLean.
Nelson-Ododa’s defense drawing attention
UConn’s junior center Olivia Nelson-Ododa is one of 10 semifinalists for the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year Award. While her 4.8 defensive rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game are solid, coming in the top 10 percent nationally, advanced metrics view her as one of the top defensive players in the country.
She’s totaled 2.4 defensive win shares this season (which approximates the total number of wins a player has produced through their defense) — 16th-best in the country — while her Player Defensive Rating of 69.1 (which estimates the number of points a player allows per 100 possessions) is 14th-best.