UConn women’s basketball senior class to wrap up long collegiate career

It’s been a long and somewhat winding road for the senior class of UConn women’s basketball.

Two came as highly touted freshmen. One came as a transfer of an upper class member from one of UConn’s most storied rivals. The other; a graduate transferring from Ohio State, had a freshman year at Storrs that was one of the program’s most turbulent seasons to date.

On Sunday, Christyn Williams, Olivia Nelson-Ododa, Evina Westbrook and Dorka Juhász will be honored with Seniors’ Day celebrations ahead of UConn’s regular season finale against Providence (2 p.m.) in front of a sold-out home crowd at the Gampel pavilion.

UConn has won four regular-season conference titles, three conference tournament championships and made two Final Four appearances during Husky’s four senior careers at Storrs.

The game against the Friars will mark the first last for the seniors as all UConn games after Sunday will be win or go home with the Big East Tournament next weekend and the NCAA Tournament two weeks later.

“It’s bittersweet. I’m very excited for the next chapter, but we also have some unfinished business to attend to,” Williams said. “Yes, it’s our last game at Gampel but we still have a lot of games to play, as we have the whole post-season. So I don’t really look at it as if it’s the last game in history , but it’s bittersweet. I’m excited and sad at the same time.

Williams was the No. 1 rookie in the Class of 2018, followed by Nelson-Ododa ranked No. 5. The duo’s first year ended in typical fashion at UConn with a trip to the Final Four, where the Huskies fell to the national champion. to Notre Dame.

Still, it was the duo’s only normal season. Their sophomore year was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic canceling the 2020 playoffs, and their junior year was rocked by game cancellations and reschedulings with the virus still in effect. UConn returned to the Final Four in 2021, but again lost to eventual finalist Arizona.

Now, as seniors, their final collegiate season was anything but smooth as the team dealt with transfers, countless injuries, illnesses, broken buses and ongoing last-minute cancellations due to COVID-19.

“It’s been a pretty unusual season for UConn,” Nelson-Ododa said. “A lot of things we faced this season, I haven’t even seen in the last four years. We definitely had to step out of our comfort zone and figure out a lot of things in order to lead our team and win. victories and to fix certain things at certain times of the season.

In four seasons, Williams played 122 games with 121 starts, including becoming the first rookie to start her first career game since Breanna Stewart. She recorded 1,724 points, 479 rebounds, 283 assists and 148 steals. She was named First Team All-Big East (2021), First Team All-American Athletic Conference (’20) and 2019 AAC Rookie of the Year.

“She was the designated driver. Anytime we need someone to rest, I put Christyn in it,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “She makes the most of it. It’s been pretty consistent now.

Nelson-Ododa has become one of the most prominent point guards for the Huskies. She missed her first-ever college game this season on Feb. 9 with a groin injury (which kept her out for three games) but overall has recorded 85 starts in 127 career games. The 6-foot-5 center is currently tied for 7th all-time on UConn’s career blocks list with 251. She led the team in rebounds and blocks as a sophomore and junior and has a team-high 9.9 boards and 1.7 blocks per game this season.

Westbrook came to Storrs as the second transfer from Tennessee. Although she was absent from her freshman year at UConn due to NCAA transfer policies and a knee injury, the Salem, Oregon native has become the team’s mother and leader off the court. . This spring wraps up her second and final season with the Huskies as she was challenged in a new role by becoming the team’s sixth go-to woman.

“Personally, it feels really good,” she said of her recent growth. “Especially just as a senior and this being your last year, (I) really want to come out on a positive note, a positive tone, not only for me but also for my teammates, in terms of leadership and overall. “

Auriemma added, “It’s the best basketball she’s played since she’s been here. She’s the Evina I always thought she would be.

Juhász still hasn’t decided whether she will return to Connecticut in the fall. the graduate transfer helped make UConn’s frontcourt one of its two most experienced post players. The Hungarian native has proven she can be tenacious when called upon and has adapted well to the UConn style under the guidance of the other players. Although her parents weren’t making the trip overseas for Seniors Day, the team volunteered to hang out with her.

“It’s just such a quick turnaround, if you think about it. I haven’t even been with these guys for a year,” she said. “They welcomed me so quickly and they were so happy that I was there. It’s really like being part of a family. Obviously I had a different team, but I walked in and immediately felt the love from them.

It was probably not the senior season that any of the four players were considering. Eight of UConn’s 12 players have missed at least two or more games due to injury or illness (Westbrook and Aaliyah Edwards have played in every game), while the college basketball world still manages to play in a COVID world.

However, with the team fully recharged now with the return of Paige Bueckers, the Huskies are peaking as expected. The playoffs are just around the corner, and with them, UConn’s aspirations to win the No. 12 national title are higher than ever.

“With this year being so crazy with all the challenges and adversities they’ve never seen before, they (the seniors) have handled it so perfectly and they’re still making sure the team is under control and we’re doing the things we need to do to be successful,” Edwards said.

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