Aaliyah Edwards of Kingston and her University of Connecticut Huskies can punch their ticket to the semifinals of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament with a quarter-final win Monday night over the Baylor Lady Bears at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas.
The Huskies put themselves in that position by beating the Iowa Hawkeyes 92-72 in the third round on Saturday evening, with Edwards scoring 18 points, tying her for third most on the team.
Edwards went 9-for-11 from the floor and 0-for-1 in free throws. She also recorded three rebounds (two offensive and one defensive). After tournament wins over High Point, Syracuse and Iowa, the former Frontenac Secondary School standout has averaged 18 points per game.
Edwards’ performance has impressed UConn coach Geno Auriemma, who missed the first two games of the tournament with COVID-19.
“If it wasn’t for Aaliyah Edwards, we wouldn’t be here today. That kid has really added so much to our team. Her strength, her physicality, her toughness, her finishing around the basket. I can’t say enough about Aaliyah, the fact that she’s been able to come off the bench most of the season,” Auriemma said on Sunday.
Auriemma has won 11 national championships — the most in NCAA women’s basketball history — in his 36-year coaching career at UConn. He said Edwards wasn’t quite ready to be a starter earlier in the season but has adjusted well on the national stage.
“Now she looks so comfortable in that spot. More than anything, I think what she does is she takes a lot of pressure off of Liv (junior Olivia Nelson-Ododa). It allows Liv to be what Liv likes to be — catch the ball at the high post, be someone who facilitates our offence — and it allows Aaliyah to muscle her way around. Because you put your best defensive big man on Liv, now Aaliyah is going to have her way a lot of times, he said.
Fellow freshman Paige Bueckers, the NCAA freshman of the year and first-team all-American, said after the Huskies’ 83-47 second-round win over Syracuse on Tuesday evening that the team can depend on Edwards.
“She steps up every single game,” Bueckers said. “This is what she’s been doing all year, so nothing really surprises us anymore.”
Auriemma said Edwards has a bright future at UConn.
“The way she runs the floor, to have a freshman like that, I can’t even imagine what she’s going to look like in a couple of years,” he said.
UConn was up 49-35 over Iowa at the half and 72-61 after being outscored 26-23 in the third quarter. The Huskies pulled away in the fourth quarter, outscoring Iowa 20-11.
UConn has a won-lost record of 27-1 heading into its quarter-final match with Baylor, which is 28-2.