March Madness is the greatest basketball tournament on earth. But blink twice and it’s already more than halfway through, with only 16 of the original 68 teams remaining in both the men’s and women’s brackets.
A lot of Canadian women have already been bounced.
Shayeann Day-Wilson’s Duke Blue Devils lost an overtime thriller to Colorado in the second round after Day-Wilson’s potential game-saving three rattled in and out of the basket. Shaina Pellington’s storied five-year college career came to an end when her Arizona Wildcats lost to Maryland in the second round. Meanwhile, Yvonne Ejim’s game-high 19 points weren’t enough to get her Gonzaga Bulldogs past the Ole Miss Rebels in the second round.
But the Canadian women that we all expected to be standing heading into the Sweet 16 are indeed still alive, and they don’t look to be slowing down anytime soon.
South Carolina coach: Amihere “most versatile player I’ve ever coached”
Laeticia Amihere’s South Carolina Gamecocks have beaten their first two opponents by a combined 63 points to improve their season record to 34-0, looking to become the first undefeated NCAA Champion since the 2015-16 UConn Huskies.
The six-foot-four senior is “the most versatile player I’ve ever coached,” according to Gamecocks head coach Dawn Staley. She will be relied on when the going gets tough to step in and play whatever role is needed of her if the Gamecocks want to win their second straight championship. After that, Amihere will likely declare for the 2023 WNBA Draft.
Edwards is determined to “not let that happen again”
To complete the back-to-back, the Gamecocks will likely have to go through Aaliyah Edwards’ UConn in the championship game. Edwards looked dominant scoring a combined 47 points through their first two wins despite playing a combined 53 minutes.
“[I want to win] for her to stop rubbing it in my face,” Edwards told Sportsnet back in December when asked about her desire to get back at Amihere. “Because whenever we connect with the national team, she always needs to bring it up.”
On top of her scoring, Edwards is the key to stopping a South Carolina attack led by senior forward Aliyah Boston, the 2022 Naismith College Player of the Year and the likely No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 WNBA Draft. Boston is a post-up threat who carves teams apart when they inevitably double-team her and she passes out, but Edwards is perhaps the best bet in the entire tournament to guard her one-on-one with minimal help, giving UConn a chance in what will likely be a finals rematch from last year, when South Carolina won.
”I think that’s the goal of any athlete who’s playing Division 1 NCAA basketball,” Edwards told Sportsnet about winning a championship. “I think that your expectation coming into such an elite pool of athletes is to be the best player and to be the best team and to bring home the national championship in order to seal everything that you’ve worked on throughout the year.”
“So, being in that position to kind of grasp that trophy last year was amazing, but the fact that we didn’t win, the feeling was deflating. And as a competitor myself, you never want to be second best because you expect more of yourself and of your team. So, that one hit me hard, for sure. But all you can really do is just learn from your mistakes and not let that happen again.”
Prosper relishing in the spotlight
But one Canadian who will look to be spoiling the rematch before the final is Notre Dame Fighting Irish’s Cassandre Prosper. As one of the youngest players in NCAA basketball, the 17-year-old Montreal, Que. native only joined the Fighting Irish in December as an early enrollee. But she has quickly gained the trust of her coaches and teammates with her defence, averaging 28 minutes off the bench in their first two tournament wins. It has been an adjustment for Prosper to play against women who are several years older and more physical than her. But she says the biggest difference between high school and college are the fans.
“I’ve never had to experience so many eyes on me when I’m playing,” Prosper told me back in February. “The amount of fans that are there, even when you’re playing away games… It’s pretty incredible to feel that experience.”
Notre Dame will be playing in front of a full house against Maryland on Saturday at 11:30 a.m. ET / 8:30 a.m. PT before potentially playing South Carolina in the Elite Eight. But despite Notre Dame being the lower seed in both of the games, Prosper is not short on confidence.
“I want to win the national championship,” she said. “I’m really trying to get more comfortable as the games come and as the weeks go by, but personally I think we have a great team. And I know we can get that national championship. So I’m gonna keep giving my team all I have just so that we can get to our goal and make it happen.”
That dream of winning the national championship can only happen for one of Prosper, Amihere or Edwards. Regardless of which one comes out on top, it is looking more and more likely that a Canadian woman will be standing atop the podium when all is said and done.