When UConn fell short in their fourth straight national semifinal in 2021 against Arizona, Olivia Nelson-Ododa went 0-for-7 from the floor and scored just one point in the game (from the free throw line).
On Friday night, the senior flipped the script and as a result, so did the Huskies as they advanced to the national championship game with a 63-58 win over Stanford. She accomplished what she set out to do and did what was needed to get UConn over the hump for a chance to play for a title.
The effort for Nelson-Ododa started on the glass, where she came up with 10 rebounds in the game, something Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer thought changed the game.
“I thought Nelson-Ododa was extremely aggressive,” the coach said. “She had five O-boards. She played really well for them and she was extremely physical when we went to our post player just in terms of what she was doing.”
Those five offensive boards helped contribute to UConn’s nine second chance points — a significant difference in the game, especially considering Stanford finished with just six.
On the defensive end, the Cardinal only rebounded 26 percent of their own misses, more than ten percent below their season average. Nelson-Ododa also had a big hand in that effort with another five rebounds on that end of the court.
Lastly, Nelson-Ododa was critical in limiting Cameron Brink’s effectiveness for Stanford. While Brink had 15 points, she went just 6-14 from the floor — a 42.9 percentage, well below her season average of 64.1 percent.
Nelson-Ododa helped get Brink in foul trouble, something that played a crucial role in UConn closing the game out. She drew Brink’s second foul almost immediately to start of the second half and also yielded her fourth with 7:35 remaining in the game, which changed how Brink could play down the stretch.
Offense was a different story for most of the contest, though. Nelson-Ododa struggled early and didn’t get on the board in the first half. She knocked down one of two free throws to start the second half on the first foul drawn on Brink, but still couldn’t get going in the third.
With 6:37 remaining the the quarter Geno Auriemma subbed Nelson-Ododa out due to both foul trouble and a lack of production offensively. That ended up being a pivotal move in the game.
When she came back in with just over two minutes remaining in the period, the senior dished out an assist to Christyn Williams on the perimeter for a triple that regained the lead for UConn and then followed it up with her first field goal of the game to end the third quarter.
“When they came back in, they looked like different people,” Auriemma said of Nelson-Ododa and Williams, who he benched at the same time. “They could have come back in and just played worse but to their credit, they did exactly what I expect them to do every night.”
Nelson-Ododa continued the better offensive performance into the final quarter and converted an and-one on UConn’s first possession of the fourth. From that point, it all came together for her.
“When Liv made that three-point play, you could just see her whole body language — everything changed about her,” Auriemma said.
Nelson-Ododa scored seven of her eight points in the final 11 minutes, a performance that helped lift UConn to the win and leaves her — and the Huskies other two seniors — with a cap off their legacy a national championship in their legacy.
“I hope they got one more night in them,” Auriemma.
UConn will need even more from their seniors — and Nelson-Ododa in particular — against South Carolina and Aliyah Boston if they are going to deliver on that championship.