November 29, 2021 

How UConn can rebound from loss to South Carolina

And the week ahead in the BIG EAST

Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma admitted he could have used some help from assistant coach Jamelle Elliot during last week’s 73-57 loss to the No. 1-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks. Elliot, who graduated from Uconn in 1996, is the program’s seventh all-time leading rebounder.

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“I didn’t have my phone to call the NCAA and see if I could put Jamelle in,” Auriemma joked to Alexa Philippou in a post-game press conference. “It would have addressed the rebounding problem, but I couldn’t do that. So we were screwed.”

The Huskies, who were outrebounded 42-25 in the loss, were simply over-powered by South Carolina on the boards. The Gamecocks’ 19 offensive rebounds contributed to 17 second chance points. For the Huskies, a mere 6 offensive rebounds translated to only 2 second chance points. Aliyah Boston had more rebounds than UConn’s three bigs Olivia Nelson-Ododa (5 rebounds), Aaliyah Edwards (3 rebounds) and Dorka Juhász (3 rebounds) combined. Rebounding made the difference for the No. 1 Gamecocks in their emphatic 16-point victory over the then-No. 2 Huskies.

‘Rebounding is always fixable’

According to Auriemma, “Rebounding is always fixable.” What will Uconn need from key post players to improve rebounding this season?

The Huskies have a tall roster this season. Five players are listed at 6’3 or taller, and 6’2 freshman guard Caroline Ducharme adds additional length on the perimeter.

The team’s leading rebounder, 6’5 Olivia Nelson-Ododa, hasn’t always stepped up in the big moments for the Huskies. Last season, Nelson-Ododa averaged a team-high 7.8 rebounds per game, but pulled down only two and six boards respectively in Uconn’s losses to Arkansas and Arizona. Nelson-Ododa was outrebounded 15-7 by Aliyah Boston in last season’s matchup against the Gamecocks.

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The 2021 BIG EAST Co-Defensive Player of the Year contributed defensively to last week’s game against South Carolina with five blocks and five defensive rebounds. With zero offensive rebounds and only six points, however, Nelson-Ododa wasn’t an offensive threat to South Carolina’s stifling inside presence. She will need to pull down more offensive boards for second-chance points to keep Uconn in games against high-ranked opponents this season.

The arrival of Aaliyah Edwards during the 2020-21 season gave Uconn another physical, low-post player. Throughout the first 10 games of her freshman season, Edwards averaged 4.5 rebounds per game. In her final 11 games, she averaged 6.3 rebounds per game. As Edwards settled into her role at Connecticut, she became more of a threat on the boards for the team.

Edwards has started slowly on the glass for the Huskies her sophomore season. The 6’3 forward pulled down just eight rebounds total during the Huskies’ entire-three game stint in the Battle 4 Atlantis. Across four total games played for the Huskies this season, Edwards has pulled down just one offensive rebound. The Huskies need Edwards to get back to her rebounding numbers from the end of last season.

Boards off the bench

Graduate transfer Dorka Juhász ended the 2020-21 ranked 21st nationally with 11.1 rebounds per game. The 6’5 forward led the Ohio State Buckeyes in rebounding for three consecutive seasons (2018-19, 2019-20, 2020-21) before transferring to Storrs.

Juhász has averaged 3.3 rebounds in 14.3 minutes per games off the bench throughout the first four games this season. The success of this UConn team against strong rebounding opponents will almost certainly depend on Juhász becoming a consistent rebounding threat.

UConn is also missing valuable production from junior forward Aubrey Griffin. The 6’1 forward appeared in 29 games with five starts last season. Her 4.8 rebounds per game in 16.8 minutes per game provided a spark of energy on the boards for last year’s squad. Griffin is sidelined with a high ankle sprain and hasn’t yet seen the court for the Huskies this season. She is expected to return to practice this week and her return will be a welcome boost for Connecticut.

In this year’s freshman class, UConn welcomed in 6’5 forward Amari DeBerry. The #15 recruit in the incoming class and 2021 McDonald’s All-American brings more size to UConn’s frontcourt. DeBerry was a member of the gold-medal winning 2021 USA U19 World Cup Team this summer alongside teammate Azzi Fudd. DeBerry has yet to see playing time this season with the Huskies. Time will tell where she will fit into UConn’s crowded frontcourt rotation this season.

Conference play to begin

BIG EAST conference play begins this Friday, December 3 with 10 of 11 teams competing. Creighton will face Georgetown at 12 p.m. E.T. to start off BIG EAST regular season competition. Providence will host Villanova and last season’s BIG EAST scoring (22.8 ppg) and rebounding (9.8 rpg) leader Maddy Siegrist. Connecticut will visit Walsh Gymnasium to take on Seton Hall.

To round out opening day, 2021 BIG EAST regular season and tournament runner-up Marquette will host Xavier and Depaul will host Butler.

Written by Tee Baker

Tee has been a contributor to The Next since March Madness 2021 and is currently a contributing editor, BIG EAST beat reporter and curator of historical deep dives.

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