Fifteen second-half points against only one missed shot, four crucial layups and game-saving defense.
Leaonna Odom’s play in a 62-58 loss to Clemson at Littlejohn Coliseum seems more like The Twelve Days of Christmas than a wasted effort in a loss. But, it exemplified the 'Odom Experience' that has both graced and plagued Duke for the past four years. For all her second-half heroics, she was a big part of the reason that the Blue Devils found themselves down by 16 at halftime, missing shots and looking a bit sluggish.
Yet when Duke needed players to step up in the second half, she came through in a big way. There is no one else on the team who could have provided the presence in the paint and in the mid-range that Odom did. There was no one else that could lock down Clemson sharpshooter Kendall Spray and provide great rim protection. There are few others who could endure a nasty, likely concussion-inducing fall, and rush themselves back onto the court not a minute later.
But also, there were few other players who would commit a sloppy, game-sealing foul with the Tigers in the bonus, sealing a Blue Devils' loss.
That’s been the story for Odom not just today, but every time she’s taken the court in blue and white—you never know what you’re going to get out of her that day, or even that quarter. She could contribute a 25-point double-double with ease, or go 1-of-5 from the field with only a couple of boards. The only consistent thing about her game has been her inconsistency. The ACC Network announcers worded it best before Duke’s game against Notre Dame this past Thursday: “We talk about potential with freshmen and sophomores. When you’re a senior, that’s just who you are.”
Her game against Nebraska Dec. 4 followed the same script. She was fine in the first half but came alive in the fourth quarter, scoring 11 points to spearhead a Blue Devil comeback. However, Odom traveled down two with six seconds left to ice the contest.
Odom doesn’t see any clear roadblocks to her game.
“I just got to play my hardest and have that mindset when I come into the game,” she said after the loss against Clemson. “I’ve been working on that, but sometimes the ball doesn’t fall in, sometimes it does—just got to take it game-by-game, and not really worry about it.”
Odom’s inconsistency wouldn’t be a point of contention if her potential wasn’t so clear. It’s what has gotten her mocked in the top 20 in 2020 WNBA drafts. It’s how she came into the 2019-2020 campaign on the watchlist for the Katrina McClain Award, given to the nation’s top power forward. It’s why Duke has always been highly-touted in her career, even as the Blue Devils slid down the ranks of the ACC. Generally a 13-point per game scorer wouldn’t be considered the second-most talented player on a nationally-competitive team, yet that’s exactly what Odom is. That speaks to her undeniable talent and the maddening plateau of her development.
Five of the Blue Devils’ nine losses this season have been by fewer than six points. A Leaonna Odom who can score 15-plus per night, a Leaonna Odom who can be a major threat in the pick-and-roll or a Leaonna Odom whose effort is never questioned wins most of those games.
In some sense, Odom is emblematic of the women’s basketball program as a whole. The talent is undeniable and there’s strong glimpses of how the pieces might come together, yet the whole is never more than the sum of its parts. There is just waiting for a bright future that hasn’t come.
Odom said herself, “I just think that, since we were down, the focus was just ‘try to get the ball back,’ and so the intensity did pick up a lot. And it should be a consistent intensity, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case.”
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