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Perfect Olivia Nelson-Ododa propels UConn past Creighton

Few UConn players have ever been as efficient on offense in a single game as Olivia Nelson-Ododa was during the Huskies 80-47 win over Creighton. The junior went a perfect 9-9 from the floor for a game-high 24 points.

Only four other players in program history – Rebecca Lobo, Nykesha Sales, Breanna Stewart, and Napheesa Collier – have made more baskets in a game without missing a shot than Nelson-Ododa. Her talent has always been evident, but the difference now is that she’s finally playing at the right pace.

“I thought Liv was very patient today. She was able to see what the defense was doing. She wasn't in a rush to get to the next thing,” Geno Auriemma said. “When Liv is calm and she's patient, and she's allowing the game to just come and not getting caught up in what happened the last play, she can do a lot.”

Through her first two years at UConn, Nelson-Ododa has shown flashes of her offensive potential – like a career-high 27 points against Oklahoma last year. She’s also had ultra-efficient nights, including perfect 9-9 shooting performances against both DePaul and Memphis last season.

On Thursday night, Nelson-Ododa didn’t just bully a small Creighton team in the post to get baskets – she scored in a variety of ways. There were still aggressive takes and post moves in the paint, but she also sunk a turn-around jumper – a shot that she often misses – and showed some range by hitting a few shots just inside the three-point line. To top it off, Nelson-Ododa buried her first career three-pointer as well.

After the game, she mentioned that she had spent a lot of time working on her shooting during the offseason. If Nelson-Ododa can knock down those types of shots consistently, she hopes it’ll not only benefit her own game but the offense as a whole.

“I think it definitely helps, especially just not being limited to the paint or down low specifically,” she said. “Getting that outside range, I think only helps me but my team, just running through the offense and having more options for people, too.”

Auriemma said Nelson-Ododa’s shooting ability is evident in practice, but she doesn’t have the confidence to hit shots consistently in games.

“In a four-minute shooting drill, Liv may make 10 straight threes,” he said. “You probably say ‘Nah, she wouldn’t.’ She might make 10 straight threes. And then the next time we do that drill in four minutes, she’ll go 0 for 10. She can make them but she's not quite sure that she can really make them under pressure in a game situation.”

Nelson-Ododa seems to be getting more comfortable with it, though. Along with her baskets in the Creighton game, she made a few 18-footers against Seton Hall as well.

But for as impressive Nelson-Ododa’s offensive numbers were, her two rebounds were the fewest since her freshman year. The junior had a good game, but there’s still plenty of room for her to improve.

“We just saw a little bit of what she's capable of doing,” Auriemma said.

The Worst Shooting Team in America

Unknowingly, Auriemma may have given his team a new moniker on Thursday night.

“This is the worst shooting team in America,” he told SNY at halftime.

Though hyperbolic, the numbers aren’t far off Auriemma’s assessment. As a team, UConn is shooting just 28.6 percent from three, which ranks 197 out of 322 in the nation. Individually, Paige Bueckers is hitting a team-best 60 percent, but she’s only taken five attempts. Anna Makurat is 5-15 (.333), Evina Westbrook is 2-8 (.250) and Christyn Williams is 3-15 (.200).

Before the season, Auriemma predicted that UConn wouldn’t be a great three-point shooting team, though he couldn’t have expected it to be this bad. But there’s not much he can do about it except hope his team keeps getting open shots and his shooters finally start making them.

“We're not gonna stop shooting them. I mean you can’t,” Auriemma said. “Christyn, Anna, Paige – it’s not like they're bad shooters. They're not at all. I think they've got to play more games and get in game-mode. Making them in practice and making them in games are two different things. So I’m guessing it’s going to get better.”

On an individual level, he wants Bueckers to shoot the ball more instead of always trying to get it to teammates.

“Paige didn't feel like shooting the ball tonight, for whatever reason,” Auriemma said. “I think she was too pass-happy. She wants to make everybody feel great. Me, if I could shoot like Paige, first I’d get 20, and then I’d make everybody feel great...She's got it backwards a little bit.”

Though she made one of her two attempts, Bueckers came back out on the floor after the game – still in uniform – to put some extra shots up alongside Nika Muhl.

As for Makurat, the sophomore appeared to find her groove in the fourth quarter with threes on back-to-back possessions. Though it’s better than nothing, Auriemma hopes that momentum will carry over into the first half on Saturday.

“Anna and I have a love-hate relationship. Anna loves to hit three-run homers in the top of the ninth one when we’re up 8-1,” he quipped. “So I need her to make some of those in the first half when the game is still being decided. Once we get up to 20, 25, man, those babies just start dropping like you wouldn't believe. So if we can get her to make a couple when it really matters....”

UConn has plenty of depth this year, but much of that is in the frontcourt. All the shooters start, so the Huskies don’t have much of a choice other than to shoot their way out of the slump – which the players are plenty aware of.

“I'm about to the point where I'm going to tell them, ‘You need to shoot well or you're not playing,’” Auriemma said. “But then they look at me and go ‘Yeah, who are you going to put in that makes more than me?’ I go ‘You got a point.’”

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Game Notes

- Though Makurat isn’t shooting the ball well, Auriemma was still happy with her performance against the Bluejays: “I think Anna had a really good game because she showed a little bit of what she can do. She threw a couple great passes on ball screen action. She made a couple threes. She facilitates things for us from the four spot.”

- Aubrey Griffin had a slow start to the year, with just six points and four rebounds in two games, but she looked like her normal self against Creighton. She caused issues on defense, showed off her burst with the ball in her hands, and cleaned up on the boards to finish with four points, eight rebounds, and two blocks. Overall, Auriemma felt Griffin was more comfortable on the floor: “We keep trying to find (out): Where's her optimum place to be? What is the one thing or two things or three things that if we just get that out of Aubrey then she'll have a lot of success? Offensive rebounding being one of them, we worked to post her up a little bit. I think we got her inside a couple times. She's really a force out there when she's comfortable. So getting comfortable is not easy.”

- Auriemma was pleased overall with his team’s performance: “I don't think there's anybody out there that you would say they struggled. I just think it was a really good effort by our team, especially on the defensive end. Especially that first half.”

- Next up for the Huskies: a matchup with the Xavier Musketeers on Saturday, Dec. 19 at 1:00 PM inside Gampel Pavilion. The game will be broadcast on SNY and will be Xavier's Big East season-opener.