Aaliyah Edwards has spent the entire NCAA season waiting for this.
“Everything you do [on the court] is learning and teaching and preparing to compete and to win it all in March,” she said.
After falling to South Carolina in the championship game last season, the UConn Huskies have had their sights set firmly on March ever since. When the No. 2 seeded Huskies kick off their 2023 Tournament against 15th-seeded Vermont on Saturday, they will be looking to Edwards to continue her stellar junior season play.
The 6-foot-3 Kingston, Ontario native averaged 16.6 points, 9.2 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game this season, all career-best numbers. She has already been named the Big East’s Most Improved Player and is also a finalist for the Katrina McClain Award, given to the best power forward in college basketball. She enters Saturday’s contest after leading UConn to the Big East Championship where she had 19 points, 15 rebounds and three assists in the championship game before being named Most Outstanding Player of the tournament.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">The BIG EAST Tournament MOP - who else by Aaliyah Edwards?<br><br>- 19.3 PPG<br>- 13.3 RPG<br>- 61.0 FG% <a href="https://t.co/v45juLakEg">pic.twitter.com/v45juLakEg</a></p>— UConn Women’s Basketball (@UConnWBB) <a href="https://twitter.com/UConnWBB/status/1633177087183036416?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">March 7, 2023</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
It has been a challenging injury-plagued season for the Huskies. Edwards has been there through it all, one of two players for the Huskies to appear in every game this season, stepping into the space created for her, and stepping up her own performances and expectations with each passing game.
“I'm proud of myself for kind of stepping to the table,” the 20 year-old forward said. “I know that we have this next man up mentality with the amount of limited players that we've had. Injuries have [affected] us from being such a deep bench, like we usually are, so for me to take that responsibility and accountability and kind of lead my team through my game and the way I play, it has been amazing so far. Going into [the] crucial part of our season now, it’s going to mean more than ever.”
Edwards has set career-highs only to break them a week later time and again in what’s been a breakout season for the youngest member of Canada’s Tokyo 2020 Women’s Olympic squad.
A 23-point, 20-rebound double-double in a UConn blowout victory against Creighton at the end of December put Edwards in the record books again as she became the first UConn player since Maya Moore to record 20 points and 20 rebounds in a game. Moore accomplished the feat in 2010.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">🗣️ AALIYAH EDWARDS<br><br>- 23 points, 20 rebounds at #21 Creighton<br>- first UConn player with 20 rebounds since Maya Moore in 2010<br>- averaging 17.9 PPG and 10.0 RPG this season <a href="https://t.co/hPuwZKlcoJ">pic.twitter.com/hPuwZKlcoJ</a></p>— UConn Women’s Basketball (@UConnWBB) <a href="https://twitter.com/UConnWBB/status/1608477505085902848?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">December 29, 2022</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
“I think that my rebounding skills have evolved and what's really come of it is me being able to track the ball when the shot goes up,” Edwards said. “It's one thing to box out, but it's also another thing to track the ball as well and multitask. And then the extra effort to grab the rebound and go up and get that and-one. I think that rebounding is a big part of my game, especially offensive rebounding. It not only gives me the opportunity to score, but it gets my teammates another possession. That's my mindset for rebounding. And then, hey, producing double doubles is what I’m trying to do.”
After losing that championship game in her sophomore season, Edwards says she felt unfulfilled. She went into the offseason hungry to shake off that feeling and begin working to come back to UConn stronger.
“I think that coming into this new season I had a lot of goals,” Edwards said. “I worked hard in the offseason to put that into fruition. One of my biggest goals was consistency, and that’s one of the things that I think I lacked last season.”
In addition to all of her offseason training, Edwards also participated for Canada in the inaugural GLOBL Jam tournament in Toronto last July. She led Canada to a gold medal the day after her 20th birthday and was named the GLOBL Jam Tournament MVP.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">🗣 MVP MVP MVP<br><br>Aaliyah Edwards led Canada to gold at the inaugural GLOBL JAM tournament! 🥇🇨🇦<br><br>(📸: <a href="https://twitter.com/Sportsnet?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Sportsnet</a>) <a href="https://t.co/GCUQwVaRqn">pic.twitter.com/GCUQwVaRqn</a></p>— UConn Women’s Basketball (@UConnWBB) <a href="https://twitter.com/UConnWBB/status/1546258306041139200?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">July 10, 2022</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
“With the Senior Women’s National Team, I was always the youngest player and looked up to everyone as my big sisters, my mentors,” Edwards said. “To have a full-circle moment where I’m the leader with GLOBL Jam, I was one of the oldest on the team, and a captain, it was crazy to be put in that position when I know from the other side how it is to be the younger player.”
Edwards credits her veteran teammates with Canada’s national program with helping her to improve her work in the post this season.
“You know, when I had to battle up against Nat [Achonwa], I couldn’t let down,” Edwards said. “I think that I've learned so many transferable skills from my time with the national team that I’m applying to my game now in college and it's paying off. I’m definitely grateful for the opportunities with the national team.”
Edwards also credits her Team Canada teammates with setting an example not only for her, but for all of the girls who are coming after them, on and off the court.
“Being under the wing of Nat, Kia [Nurse] and Bridget [Carleton], they were leaders not only for Canada basketball, but for women in sports,” Edwards said. “They do so much on and off the court that help to empower the younger generation, like myself and even younger. To be around them and soak it all up and be under their wing has just been amazing.”
Besides having a much larger role on both ends of the floor, this junior season has also been different for Edwards because she knows what she wants to come next. Though she’s careful to keep her focus on each opponent as they come, Edwards knows that her junior year will be over before she knows it and then she will be a senior working toward what is next in her basketball career.
“I’m an upperclassman now,” she said. “[I’m] getting ready to kind of be a pro and become a pro. I knew I had to start with my consistency and I’m just proud of how well I’ve been able to accomplish that so far.”
As another March Madness journey begins for the Huskies this Saturday, Edwards is ready to go.
“I'm just grateful and blessed,” she said. “Our goal is to get back to that national championship game and to come out with the win this time.”