In a season with more than its fair share of challenges for the UConn Huskies women’s basketball team, one player hasn’t missed a beat.
Canadian Aaliyah Edwards has been a rock-solid, constant presence for a Huskies team ravaged by injuries at various points this season — the only player on the squad to play all 34 games (29 wins).
To the surprise of no one, the third-team All-American was at her best with the stakes raised on Saturday for UConn’s March Madness opener.
The six-foot-three, third-year forward from Kingston, Ont. was a perfect 8-for-8 from the field in the first half and finished the game with a career-high 28 points as No. 2-seeded UConn beat visiting Vermont 95-52.
Edwards made her first 10 shots before finally missing one late in the third quarter. She finished 13-of-15 and added seven rebounds, five assists, four steals and two blocks.
Named the Big East’s most improved player this season, Edwards also is one of five finalists for the national Katrina McClain Award for best power forward.
She showed why on Saturday with a couple of and-ones in a dominant first quarter.
After the second in transition off a steal, a pumped-up Edwards exchanged fist bumps with fans in the student section.
“I was kind of falling into the crowd anyway, so I felt the energy and the love from the student section,” Edwards said. “You know, we’re playing in Gampel, it’s the first game here, and you could feel the energy, feel the love from that atmosphere. I think that everyone on the team loves that energy from them, and we have the best fans in the world. So it was a great moment.”
UConn led 27-12 after the first quarter and rolled to victory.
“We couldn’t match (Edwards’) athleticism, strength, explosion. We didn’t have an answer for her,” Vermont coach Alisa Kresge said. “The game plan was to try to double her some, but she’s ready for stuff like that. I thought she did a great job getting us really deep in the paint, and then when we kind of played off her from the perimeter, she hit a couple perimeter shots.
“But she’s just such a worker. She works so hard. She never gives up. She’s really talented and that was quite a mismatch for us.”
A perennial powerhouse, UConn is looking to return to the national championship game after falling to South Carolina in last year’s title tilt.
It hasn’t been smooth sailing this season — former national player of the year Paige Bueckers hasn’t played all year because of a torn ACL and UConn had one game postponed because it didn’t have the minimum number of scholarship players available.
But through it all, Edwards has been a steadying influence. With the team finally close to full health at the most important time of the year, there’s reason for optimism.
It should be noted that the last time UConn won a national title in 2016 (completing a four-peat), one of its best players happened to be a Canadian — national team star Kia Nurse. Edwards would love to follow in her footsteps.
The Day After
Less than 24 hours after what many call the biggest upset in college basketball history, Fairleigh Dickinson men’s players and coaches were back in front of the media — trying to prepare for Sunday’s game against Florida Atlantic following the Knights’ stunning win over top-seeded Purdue in Columbus, Ohio.
Turning their phones on silent might be the way to go.
“I’ve got, like, 1,200 unanswered texts right now. The problem each time I look at my phone, it’s more and more,” coach Tobin Anderson said. “My message, if anybody’s listening, stop texting right now. Give me a chance to catch up.”
Added top player Sean Moore: “I personally would say life-changing. That whole game has changed everybody on our team, staff, students, everybody who go to Fairleigh Dickinson University, everything is different now. Phone has been going crazy, still is. I’m trying to reach back out to everybody. I appreciate everybody out there showing love.”
If the shortest team in college basketball can somehow win one more game, a trip to the Sweet 16 at some arena called Madison Square Garden will be in store — about a 45-minute drive from the Jersey campus.
“If we’ve got a chance to go to the Garden and play in the Sweet 16, I wouldn’t have to fly back to Jersey. I could jog back … take off running, be like Forrest Gump or something,” said Anderson, the team’s first-year coach after a long run in Divisions II and III, much of it in upstate New York.
“That would be incredible.”
Tara Wallack of South Surrey, B.C. had a double-double (16 points, 12 rebounds) in a losing cause as No. 5 seed Washington State dropped a 74-63 decision to Florida Gulf Coast.
Meanwhile, Alabama centre Charles Bediako of Brampton, Ont. continued a strong tournament with 10 points and 10 rebounds in his top-ranked team’s 73-51 second-round win over Maryland.
Men’s (round of 32)
No. 11 Pittsburgh vs. No. 3 Xavier, 12:10 p.m. ET / 9:10 a.m. PT
No. 6 Kentucky vs. No. 3 Kansas State, 2:40 p.m. ET / 11:40 a.m. PT
No. 7 Michigan State vs. No. 2 Marquette, 5:15 p.m. ET / 2:15 p.m. PT
No. 5 Saint Mary’s vs. No. 4 UConn, 6:10 p.m. ET / 3:10 p.m. PT
No. 6 Creighton vs. No. 3 Baylor, 7:10 p.m. ET / 4:10 p.m. PT
No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson vs. No. 9 Florida Atlantic, 7:45 p.m. ET / 4:45 p.m. PT
No. 5 Miami vs. No. 4 Indiana, 8:40 p.m. ET / 5:40 p.m. PT
No. 6 TCU vs. No. 3 Gonzaga, 9:40 p.m. ET / 6:40 p.m. PT
No. 8 South Florida vs. No. 1 South Carolina, 1 p.m. ET / 10 a.m. PT
No. 10 Georgia vs. No. 2 Iowa, 3 p.m. ET / 12 p.m. PT
No. 11 Mississippi State vs. No. 3 Notre Dame, 3:30 p.m. ET / 12:30 p.m. PT
No. 9 San Diego State vs. No. 1 Virginia Tech, 5 p.m. ET / 2 p.m. PT
No. 7 Arizona vs. No. 2 Maryland, 5:30 p.m. ET / 2:30 p.m. PT
No. 10 Princeton vs. No. 2 Utah, 7 p.m. ET / 4 p.m. PT
No. 6 Michigan vs. No. 3 LSU, 7:30 p.m. ET / 4:30 p.m. PT
No. 8 Ole Miss vs. No. 1 Stanford, 9:30 p.m. ET / 6:30 p.m. PT