When you’ve been around as long as Geno Auriemma, and won as many championships, and coached as many Olympians, you know a big player when you see one.
But last year, when he ran a brief USA Basketball training camp in Las Vegas, he found getting to know Baylor senior guard Odyssey Sims a little tougher that he anticipated.
Sims was one of the college players invited to train with Auriemma’s senior national team. But not all kids are alike.
“She takes a little while to warm up to,” Auriemma said. “She is not a very outspoken, outgoing kid. She is very quiet in a lot of ways. Her game is not quiet, but she certainly is. So you need to pay attention and try to get to know her.
“But what I did notice is that she is a fierce competitor. She is a tough, physical, mentally-strong kid who takes great care of the ball. She played as well as any of the guards to come to that camp. I had never been around her before and I was really impressed with all that she did.”
Monday, Sims will try to do it against Auriemma and his unbeaten (17-0) No. 1 team at the Ferrell Center.
Sims, the nation’s leading scorer (32.1) will try to end UConn’s 23-game winning streak. And in doing so, preserve Baylor’s home-winning streak (68), the fifth-longest in NCAA history.
This will be the fourth straight season the team’s have played in the regular season, a span of time that had traced the career of Baylor All-American center Brittney Griner.
“Having Brittney Griner meant that a lot of theie offense flowed through her,” UConn guard Bria Hartley said. “But now, it’s Odyssey’s chance to make her statement.”
And those who have been scorched by her this season realize that’s exactly what she is doing.
“How much credit does that kid [Sims] get for waiting her time?,” Kansas coach Bonnie Hendrickson said of Sims after she beat the Jayhawks with 40 points on Jan. 5.
“If you look at her free throw attempts (132), her shot attempts (296) and her ability to create for others; and then what she is still willing to do on the defensive end, what a great talent. Good for her to be that unselfish and now make the most of it when it is her time to shine.”
Sims, a 5-8 guard, established a career-high for points (48) and rebounds (10) in a win last week at West Virginia, a team that takes defense seriously. She shot 14 of 20, including 6-for-10 from three and 14 of 17 from the foul line with seven assists and two steals.
Sims is also Baylor’s all-time assist leader and just broke BU’s career 3-point field goal record with 201. She is destined to be one of the Top 3 players taken in the 2014 WNBA Draft, perhaps the top pick should the Connecticut Sun feel they need a strong guard than a strong post [Stanford’s Chiney Ogwumike].
But she is UConn’s problem for now.
“She is having an unbelievable year,” Auriemma said. “She might be the best players I’ve seen on film this season; no question, no one even close. And she is good. She makes shots, gets in the lane, makes runners and fouls you out.
“In some ways, it’s easier to defend a great post player [like Griner] because someone has to get them the ball. When you have the ball all the time, it’s tougher.”
This is UConn’s final non-conference game and it should be a physical challenge. It will also give sophomore Breanna Stewart, the Most Outstanding Player of the 2013 Final Four, a chance to make up for the worst game of her career.
As a freshman, Stewart played just seven minutes against the Lady Bears and was scoreless with just two shots. Auriemma actually benched her when she totally messed up an in-bounds play during UConn’s 76-70 loss in Hartford.
“At that point, we could have asked Stewie what day it was, what building it was and she would not have known,” Auriemma said.
The memory still lingers for Stewart, voted last week at USA Basketball’s 2013 Female Athlete of the Year.
“I just remember being very frustrated,” Stewart said. “I knew I’m the type of player that hopefully could make an impact for my team in a game like that. I wasn’t able to do anything. But now it’s a new team for Baylor, a new team for us, but at the same time you want to fix what happened last year.”
While Griner scored 25 points in last year’s win, Sims was held to nine (3 of 15) most by the defensive effort of Kelly Faris, who is also gone.
Now the job will be shared by many, including sophomore Moriah Jefferson, a friend and former AAU teammate of Sims in Texas.
“Yeah, people have been blowing my phone up [about the game],” Jefferson said. “We were on the same AAU team back home and to this day when I go home we sometimes work out together.
“She’s really killing it this year, but I kind of figured she’d have to bring it out [without Griner] and have the big games she is capable of.”