Nelson-Ododa gave UConn women a much-needed spark

Hartford — Olivia Nelson-Ododa was reliving a nightmare.

Two weeks earlier in the same building, UConn's sophomore center was scoreless and benched in the fourth quarter of a loss to Baylor. In her search for redemption against Tennessee Thursday night, she picked up two first-quarter fouls and not only found herself sidelined for the rest of the half, but for the start of the third quarter.

When she finally did get the call from coach Geno Auriemma for the final 12:49, she responded. Nelson-Ododa scored all 10 of her points and had five of her seven rebounds down the stretch of the third-ranked Huskies’ 60-45 win at the XL Center.

“I just tried to contribute as much as possible, especially what the coaches need out of me,” Nelson-Ododa said. “They made that known.

“You can’t pout or things like that. What I tried best to do was to incorporate or match that same intensity of the team that really had given us a boost in the third quarter.”

UConn, which has to turn around quickly for an American Athletic Conference game on Saturday at East Carolina (1 p.m., SNY), had turned a 31-28 halftime deficit into a 40-33 lead when Nelson-Ododa came in to give Megan Walker a break. She hit two free throws to close out third quarter and was 3-for-6 from the floor in the final 10 minutes as the Huskies put it away.

Earlier Thursday, Nelson-Ododa was among 15 players named to the Naismith Women’s Defensive Player of the Year 2020 midseason team.

“You always want somebody to respond whenever there is a challenge put in front of them,” Auriemma said. “I think there was a huge challenge in front of her today. The best defensive player on the floor is guarding you: the bench. If you’re going to keep putting yourself on the bench in every big game, you can’t help us. If you’re going to be on the floor, you have to match the intensity of the game.

“If you were to tell me that we were going to get 30 minutes of that from now on from Liv, then we’re a completely different team. That was a great snippet of what I hope she can do going forward.”

Husky bites

UConn point guard Crystal Dangerfield had three assists to push her career total to 545. The senior moved past Maya Moore and into a tie with Kelly Faris for eighth on the Huskies’ all-time list. … Walker was in single figures for the first time this season (9 on 3-for-15 shooting). Her previous low was 14 points at Memphis on Jan. 14.

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