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UConn women’s basketball 2021 Nelson.Ododa. Huskies hold a block party

UConn women's basketball 2021 Nelson.Ododa. Huskies hold a block party

UConn women’s basketball 2021 Nelson.Ododa. Huskies hold a block party

UConn women’s basketball UConn women’s basketball a Nelson-Ododa, hold Huskies block party

Wed, 24 Mar 2021 04:00:00 -0700

Olivia Nelson-Ododa and the UConn women's basketball team were in a zone Tuesday

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Syracuse guard Emily Engstler (21) shoots under pressure from UConn forward Olivia Nelson-Ododa (20) during the first half of a college basketball game in the second round of the women’s NCAA tournament at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Tuesday, March 23, 2021.

(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Sports Reporter

Syracuse guard Emily Engstler (21) shoots under pressure from UConn forward Olivia Nelson-Ododa (20) during the first half of a college basketball game in the second round of the women’s NCAA tournament at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Tuesday, March 23, 2021.

(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Olivia Nelson-Ododa and the UConn women’s basketball team were in a zone Tuesday.

The junior center became the ninth player in UConn history to record 200 career blocked shots when she stuffed her Syracuse counterpart Kamilla Cardosa with 2:36 left in the second quarter.

But it was the top-seeded Huskies’ defensive adjustment from starting in man-to-man and switching to zone that was key as they blasted No.

8 Syracuse 83-47 in a NCAA River Walk Regional second-round game at the Alamodome in San Antonio.

“We did a better job of communicating, especially after halftime, coming out with a better defensive mindset and just attacking and being aggressive,” Nelson-Ododa said.

“I’m very proud of our team and the way we handled the game tonight.

We showed a lot of toughness.”

Cardoso, Syracuse’s 6-foot-7 freshman center, had eight of the Orange’s first 10 points.

But when UConn switched to a zone, it made it hard for Cardoso to get the ball and she had only four points the rest of the game.

Nelson-Ododa, the Big East’s reigning co-Defensive Player of the Year, finished with 17 points and eight rebounds while chipping in four assists.

“I don’t know the last game we played that much zone,” UConn associate head coach Chris Dailey said.

“That helped us a lot.

We tried to mix it up and keep them a little off balance.

“We just covered up everything.

I thought they found it very difficult to get the shots that they wanted.

And we did a really good job on the backboard.

It was physical, and we handled the physical play well, and then we were able to get out in transition.”

Syracuse shot 28.1 percent from the floor and 20.0 percent from 3-point land.

Nelson-Ododa, who had a streak of 52 consecutive games with a blocked shot end last month, had just the one rejection Tuesday to hit 200 exactly, but it did move her into elite company.

“I definitely take pride in my defense and it’s something that I try to continue to improve on every day at practice,” Nelson-Ododa said.

Breanna Stewart is UConn’s all-time leader in blocked shots with 414.

She is followed on the Huskies’ list by Rebecca Lobo (396), Kara Wolters (370), Kiah Stokes (325), Tina Charles (304), Stefanie Dolson (254), Napheesa Collier (251), and Maya Moore (204).

Nelson-Ododa and Kelly Schumacher (181) round out the Top 10.

Muhl misses out

Nika Muhl could only sit on the bench with her right foot and ankle in an air cast.

The freshman guard, who sprained her right ankle in the Huskies’ first-round win over High Point Sunday, saw her run of 14 straight starts snapped.

UConn is off until Saturday when it takes on Caitlin Clark and No.

5 Iowa in a regional semifinal at the Alamodome.

“I do not have an update on when we are expecting her back,” Dailey said.

“I was hopeful if there was anyway she could play she would suit up, but she wasn’t able to.

I’m hoping with a day off (Wednesday) and then getting ready that she will play on Saturday, but that’s not an official statement from our athletic trainer or from Nika.

I’m just hopeful.”

Forward Aaliyah Edwards got the start and had 19 points and eight rebounds.

Aubrey Griffin turned in a solid effort off the bench, making all four of her shots and finishing with nine points.

“Her energy was what I was concerned about not having but everyone stepped up,” Dailey said.

“It’s funny.

No one had to be super human.

Everyone just had to do what they did and do it well.

We had people step up and do their role, play their part and do their job.”

Husky bites

UConn coach Geno Auriemma turned 67 on Tuesday and the Huskies were able to wish him a Happy Birthday on a Zoom call at shoot-around.

With the win, UConn is 12-1 when playing on his birthday.

Tuesday also marked the 30th anniversary of the Huskies’ 60-57 win over Clemson at the Palestra in Philadelphia that sent them to their first Final Four … UConn is 28-2 in NCAA second-round games with the losses to Clemson (1990) and to Vanderbilt (1992) … The Huskies and Syracuse could play next season as both are scheduled to take part in the Battle 4 Atlantis in November.

Brackets for the event have not been announced.

For coverage of all sports in the JI’s 18-town coverage area, plus updates on the UConn women’s basketball team and head coach Geno Auriemma, follow Carl Adamec on Twitter: @CarlAdamec, Facebook: Carl Adamec, and Instagram: @CarlAdamec.

Sports Reporter

Carl covers the UConn women’s basketball team and all other sports included in the JI’s wide coverage area.

He has worked for the JI for over 30 years.

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UConn women’s basketball UConn women’s basketball

Wed, 24 Mar 2021 04:00:00 -0700

The UConn women held off Syracuse in the second round of the NCAA Tournament without coach Geno Auriemma on his birthday

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With Auriemma set to rejoin 

SAN ANTONIO — Geno Auriemma spent Tuesday, his 67th birthday, at home self-isolating following a positive COVID-19 test as his No.

1 seed Huskies faced No.

8 seed Syracuse in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Associate head coach Chris Dailey, who served as head coach in Auriemma’s absence, Jamelle Elliott and the Huskies made sure UConn would keep dancing with a 83-47 win and that Auriemma would be with them from here on out.

Auriemma had a morning flight scheduled for San Antonio on Wednesday now that his 10-day isolation period is over.

“Today’s his birthday, so we wanted to get the win for him so he can get down here with us,” freshman Paige Bueckers said.

“We miss him a lot.”

“I know everybody’s going to be really happy to have him here tomorrow,” Dailey said.

“I say that now, but maybe — he gets here at noon, I think — by five I might regret saying that.

For right now, I’m looking forward to having him here.”

Going into the second-round matchup, it was Auriemma who was the reassuring presence as Dailey prepared UConn.

“I didn’t want to be in a position where I cost our players an opportunity to keep playing,” Dailey continued.

“And he was really actually calming when I was talking to him.

It starts in text and then phone calls.

I think we were both anxious.”

It didn’t help that the Huskies were without starting freshman guard Nika Muhl, who missed the game with an ankle sprain she suffered on Sunday.

It wasn’t the prettiest game for UConn, particularly in the first half.

The Huskies struggled to execute offensively against Syracuse’s zone as 6-7 Orange freshman Kamilla Cardoso scored eight first-quarter points.

Before the Huskies’ offense really started to get going, Bueckers carried them with 16 first-half points.

Following an 11-3 run, UConn went into the half up 41-26.

UConn would soon settle into the game, picking apart the zone and outscoring the Orange 64-33 after the first quarter.

Their frontcourt players — Olivia Nelson-Ododa, Aaliyah Edwards and Aubrey Griffin — shined the most, finishing with a combined 45 points on 16-for-20 shooting (13-for-19 on free throws).

On the other end, Cardoso was limited to four points the rest of the way.

UConn made the necessary adjustments to win the game, looking like a different team in the third quarter.

That will be the patience and grit the team must channel to realize their goal of winning the program’s 12th national title.

“I’m very proud of my team and the way we handled the game tonight,” said Nelson-Ododa, who scored 13 third-quarter points and finished with 17 overall.

“I think we showed a lot of toughness.

At the beginning of the game we just adjusted to their offense and how their players are playing but also sticking to the game plan and just going off of that and what the coaching staff was teaching us.”

Not every game will be easy, especially in the NCAA Tournament.

It is a valuable lesson for a young team with seven freshmen and nine underclassmen to internalize as the stakes are raised.

Still, UConn took care of business by the game’s end, winning their first two NCAA Tournament games by 43 and 36 points, respectively.

“I think you go in expecting to have to grind it out,” Dailey said.

“There’s no rule that says Connecticut has to be up 40 at halftime.

There are only good teams left, and so you have to expect that other teams are going to play well, and you’re going to miss shots, you’re going to make plays and stay together.

We’ve been learning that, and we’ve done it, and today was another example of it.”

Dailey and Auriemma will have plenty of film to dissect with the team and plenty of notes on what things they did wrong or must sharpen moving forward.

But Dailey also noted the team embraced a moment of relief and joy once they sealed the win over Syracuse.

So Dailey, too, took a moment to appreciate where the team’s at, even if she had to get them there under the most extraordinary of circumstances.

“I am very excited,” Dailey said of returning to the Sweet 16.

“There wasn’t a celebration as much today as an excitement that they’re excited to be able to play in the Sweet 16, they’re excited to have their coach back.

And they’re just happy.

They’re a fun group and they’re just looking forward to get a chance to play again.”

And so the next chapter of UConn’s postseason run begins as UConn prepares to face their toughest competition yet in Iowa and Caitlin Clark.

This time with Auriemma (and ideally Muhl) back.

His players wouldn’t have allowed their season to end Tuesday night without their leader alongside them guiding the way.

Now they get to fight for a national title together.

“I told him get his butt on a plane immediately,” Bueckers said.

“I better see him right when I wake up tomorrow.”

Alexa Philippou can be reached at aphilippou@courant.com

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– March 24, 2021

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