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UConn women’s basketball 2020-21 season in review: Frontcourt

UConn’s frontcourt duo dominated their Big East opponents but struggled in some of the Huskies’ bigger matchups.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Final Four Semifinal-Arizona at Connecticut Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

UConn’s forwards helped the Huskies have one of the best defenses in the nation once again. Anchored by Olivia Nelson-Ododa and Aaliyah Edwards inside, UConn finished sixth overall in total rebounding rate and seventh overall in block rate per Her Hoop Stats.

Here’s how UConn’s frontcourt performed this season:

The punchline: UConn scored over 1.27 points per possession on post-ups and shot attempts around the basket this season — the best in the nation per Synergy. While the Huskies’ frontcourt dominated inside against smaller opponents in the Big East all season long, they did struggle against teams with more size and length.

Olivia Nelson-Ododa: Nelson-Ododa was once again the core of UConn’s frontcourt. She recorded seven double-doubles for the Huskies this season and averaged a team high 7.8 boards per game. Her rebounding figures actually declined form her sophomore season, which is more of an indication of her having more help in the frontcourt this year than anything else. Nelson-Ododa also finished third on the team in both scoring and assists, at 12.0 points and 2.9 dimes per game, respectively.

For stretches of the season, especially against smaller Big East opponents, Nelson-Ododa looked like one of the best centers in the country and asserted her dominance inside with ease. While less frequently than last season, Nelson-Ododa struggled against other top tier talent in the frontcourt and came up short when the Huskies her inside. Still there were obvious strides forward in her game this season, including her ability to hold her own inside and still contribute despite not scoring in the Elite Eight against Baylor, for example.

Aaliyah Edwards: Edwards finished the season first in the nation in field goal percentage, knocking down 68.9 percent of her attempts from the floor on the season. While Edwards is her best around the basket, she also began to exhibit some offensive range, knocking down jumpers from the free throw line on a consistent basis later in the season. Edwards’ ability to run the floor and score in transition was also elite this season as she shot a whopping 86 percent on transition attempts, which ranked 11th in the nation per Synergy.

Edwards’ physicality around the basket also brought a new look to UConn’s frontcourt, especially when paired with Nelson-Ododa. Her strong presence inside allowed her to excel on the offensive glass with 2.5 of her 5.7 rebounds per game coming on the Huskies’ end of the court.

Aubrey Griffin: After a slow start to the season, Griffin looked like she took a step up from her freshman year. She scored in double figures in all but one of the Huskies’ games in January and frequently crashed the offensive glass but also demonstrated a broader offensive range.

However, she didn’t build upon her January performances throughout the rest of the season and Griffin’s role was largely the same as last year. Still, she provided a very strong defensive presence off the bench for the Huskies and finished fourth nationally in defensive Win Shares per 40 minutes. Her offensive rebounding rate and steal rate both ranked in the top five percent of the country as well.

Mir McLean: McLean’s freshman season lacked consistency and her on court minutes were volatile throughout the season before disappearing all together in the post season. Much like Griffin last year, McLean often provided a spark off the bench for the Huskies and brought disruptive energy and athleticism on the defensive end. McLean was also a machine on the offensive glass, rebounding nearly 19 percent of UConn’s opponents’ misses while on the court, which ranked sixth in the nation.

Piath Gabriel: As expected, Piath Gabriel didn’t see the court much this season and played just 56 total minutes. Even in her short spurts of action, Gabriel’s talent on the defensive end of the court was noticeable. She blocked 10 percent of UConn’s opponents’ two-point attempts while on the floor and totaled five blocks in her very limited minutes. Gabriel’s offensive game is raw (as advertised), but as that part of her game evolves, she could work her way into being a role player for the Huskies with enough time.

Looking ahead: UConn’s frontcourt will have more depth than any time in recent memory heading into the 2021-22 season. As of now, the Huskies are set to return all of their forwards from this year’s roster while adding an experienced frontcourt talent with the pickup of Ohio State grad transfer Dorka Juhász. Additionally, No. 15 recruit Amari DeBerry is ranked third among all post players in the 2021 class.