Monday night’s matchup between between No. 4 UConn and No. 11 South Carolina has many implications in the world of women’s college basketball. There’s the AP Poll, and a future NCAA Tournament seed. There are bragging rights between two of the strongest programs in the country. But there’s even an additional story outside of household names like Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson. UConn freshmen Christyn Williams and Olivia Nelson-Ododa may be presented with opportunities to do an about face in front of a team they could have played for: South Carolina.
Nelson-Ododa made a name for herself at the 2018 Powerade Jam Fest, when she tried to achieve what then-Tennessee recruit Candace Parker did in 2004 — win the slam dunk contest. After growing up around the track with help from her family, Olivia eventually ditched running for basketball, beginning with Winder-Barrow (GA) High School. Only a sophomore, Nelson-Ododa pioneered a Georgia state title run with the Bulldogs — a first for the girls basketball program in 60 years.
Meanwhile, Williams’ high school career had a similar, but more rewarding, path: she was awarded multiple Player of the Year honors by Gatorade, USA Today, MaxPreps and Naismith, along with MVP honors at the 2018 McDonald’s All-American Game. What truly may have defined her status as a basketball player happened in 2015, when Geno Auriemma — fresh off a 2015 national championship — paid Williams a visit. Though Williams has been tangled in the sport from birth, a highlight of her training at 14 years old reflects not just her commitment, but a workhorse attitude towards the sport.
Both Olivia Nelson-Ododa and Christyn Williams initially wanted to be a part of Dawn Staley’s roster at South Carolina. But it was the words of Geno Auriemma that poached the elite ballers from the south, in the hopes of winning a national championship (and WNBA aspirations afterwards). Either way, Williams and Nelson-Ododa will be in a somewhat awkward situation when they play a Te’a Cooper-led Gamecocks team that is in the middle of the five-game win streak.
During their first season at UConn, Olivia Nelson-Ododa and Christyn Williams are on different paths, yet they’re both contributing to the Huskies in major ways. Regardless of having varying effects and impacts on the team, they are still crucial reinforcements for the Big Three (Crystal Dangerfield, Collier and Samuelson).
2018-19 stats: 11.3 minutes played per game, 46.2 field-goal percentage, 76 total rebounds, 22 total blocks
Most notable game: vs. Saint Louis (24 minutes played, 12 points, 10 rebounds, 5 blocks)
2018-19 stats: 31.1 minutes played per game, 10.6 points per game, 49.5 field-goal percentage, 43 total assists, 72 total rebounds
Most notable game: at Notre Dame (28 points, 68.7 field-goal percentage, 50.0 three-point percentage)
Standing at 6-foot-4, Nelson-Ododa is Auriemma’s key weapon in the interior, especially against taller defenses. But with size comes a disadvantage, as the Kenyan national has fouled out of two games and accrued four fouls in three other games. On the other hand, Williams was under fire for her performances after Notre Dame, but since UConn’s first 100-point game of the 2018-19 season against East Carolina, Squeaks is gaining momentum right in time for South Carolina.
No. 4 UConn Huskies (21-2, 9-0) vs. No. 11 South Carolina Gamecocks (17-5, 9-1)
When: Monday, Feb. 11, at 7 p.m. ET
Where: XL Center, Hartford, CT
How to tune in: ESPN2, 97-9 ESPN