UConn in Canada: Huskies found willing homecoming opponent in non-NCAA opponent - world News Update

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TORONTO — The aged Maple Leaf Gardens connected a precocious December evening is not a spot you would expect to find nan astir ascendant women’s assemblage hoops programme successful history, though nan one-time cathedral of lucky has hosted its stock of icons complete nan years, including the nighttime of March 29, 1966, erstwhile a 24-year-old Muhammad Ali (then known arsenic Cassius Clay) defeated Toronto’s George Chuvalo successful a unanimous decision.

But present were nan UConn Huskies successful Toronto, not arsenic mighty arsenic they person been successful nan past, now classed No. 17 aft 3 early play losses. Their force astatine Mattamy Athletic Centre (the existent tenant for Maple Leaf Gardens) was Toronto Metropolitan University, a value Canadian hoops programme and undefeated connected nan play successful their cervix of nan woods.

How did nan UConn women find themselves successful Toronto against a non-NCAA opponent? Part history, portion happenstance, and a full-time committedness to reward their seniors pinch a homecoming game. The history: When Canadian nationalist squad personnel Natalie Achonwa was a elder astatine Notre Dame successful 2014, her schoolhouse was looking for section thief to get a homecoming crippled location adjacent to Achonwa’s hometown of Guelph. TMU caput coach Carly Clarke had coached Achonwa successful precocious schoolhouse and helped nan Irish extremity up playing Duquesne on Toronto Metropolitan’s location court. UConn reached retired to Clarke 3 years later to find a hometown crippled for then-UConn elder Kia Nurse, who is from Hamilton, Ontario. The Huskies ended up playing Duquesne astatine Mattamy successful December 2017 for Nurse’s homecoming game. UConn was looking for a homecoming crippled this play for elder Aaliyah Edwards, who is from Kingston, Ontario, astir 2 1/2 hours eastbound of Toronto. The original force successful Toronto was expected to beryllium Pittsburgh (which has Canadian guardant Lauren Rust connected its roster) but a coaching alteration for nan Panthers near UConn looking for an opponent. That’s erstwhile TMU came in.

“We’ve maintained a narration pinch UConn, and pinch Aaliyah Edwards being a senior, they reached retired astir coming backmost up to our spot because nan acquisition was truthful awesome past time,” said Clarke. “They had an force lined up but hadn’t officially signed nan statement and past location was a coaching change. So they mislaid their matchup past outpouring and by that constituent it was tougher to schedule different NCAA schoolhouse because astir of their schedule’s done. So they were like, why don’t we conscionable play you guys? Of people I was like, absolutely, we would emotion to.”

Edwards sewage a rousing ovation during warmups, and nan oculus trial revealed location were much group successful nan adjacent sellout crowd (maybe a shadiness nether 3,000) wearing UConn merch versus TMU by multiples. UConn coach Geno Auriemma warmly greeted Clarke astir 3 minutes anterior to nan tip. The temper was light. Fifteen media members covering nan game, including walking property from The Hartford Courant. The accustomed media contingent for a TMU game? One.

Then came reality for TMU — and reality was an avalanche of layups and unfastened jumpers. UConn jumped to an 18-0 lead pinch 6:26 near successful nan first quarter.There were mismatches each complete nan floor, and nan talent discrepancy was massive. If it was a boxing lucifer astatine nan aged Maple Leaf Gardens, nan refs would person stopped it during Round 1. Clarke called a timeout erstwhile it sewage to 18-0, and TMU yet collapsed done connected a left-handed hook changeable by defender Catrina Garvey pinch 5:54 near successful nan opening quarter.

Aaliyah Edwards gets nan double-double successful her homecoming!

26 points, 10 rebounds pic.twitter.com/Sq0odmyo0O

— UConn Women’s Basketball (@UConnWBB) December 21, 2023

After 10 minutes of play it was 39-5 and 68-9 astatine nan half, which included UConn shooting 71.8 percent from nan section (28 of 39) successful their first 20 minutes. The last was 111-34. Edwards led each scorers pinch 26 points and 10 rebounds. She was beaming afterward. A statement of young girls asked UConn prima Paige Bueckers to motion various things and airs for pictures aft nan game.

“This crippled is an acquisition our our players will ne'er forget,” Clarke said. “I don’t deliberation they will retrieve what nan people was. But 15 years from now, if Paige and Aaliyah are lighting up successful nan (WNBA), they’ll say, hey, I drew an violative foul connected Aaliyah aliases I defended that 1 changeable that Paige missed. They’re going to person memories of it for a lifetime.”

The NCAA told The Associated Press that nan crippled and statistic will count arsenic a regular-season 1 for UConn. Spokesperson Rick Nixon told nan AP that because TMU is not an NCAA Division I opponent, nan consequence will not beryllium calculated successful UConn’s NET rankings for information successful postseason seeding. 

Clarke said she scouted UConn by utilizing Synergy Sports information and watching them connected television. To prep for nan game, she asked Kia Nurse to believe against TMU players, truthful nan erstwhile UConn prima and existent personnel of nan Seattle Storm joined believe earlier this week.

Connecticut x Canada

💙 pic.twitter.com/c4s8IKOAvO

— UConn Women’s Basketball (@UConnWBB) December 21, 2023

“I wanted to punctual our squad that UConn was human,” Clarke said. “I was conscionable trying to normalize it. Our programme has grown complete nan past decade to go 1 of nan apical teams successful Canada consistently truthful we want to proceed to put ourselves successful a position to beryllium challenged and person immoderate caller experiences.”

Auriemma said aft nan crippled he was impressed by TMU for playing nan crippled and really they handled nan occasion.

“Sometimes you conscionable cognize it’s not astir winning that game, it’s not astir winning and losing,” Auriemma said. “It’s you want to spot what it feels for illustration to beryllium successful that situation. I don’t deliberation immoderate of them (TMU’s players) went into nan crippled reasoning they were going to win. But I deliberation they each went into nan crippled thinking, I’m going to spell retired and spot really adjacent erstwhile I play nan measurement I play, really I tin play against this team. It takes a small spot of courageousness to play america erstwhile you’re successful Carly’s situation. I respect that. There’s not a batch of group that would do it. But I deliberation erstwhile you do thing for illustration this you’re besides sending a connection that you judge successful your team, you judge successful your players, and you judge successful nan programme that you’re building.”

Clarke is an accomplished hoops coach successful Canada, including serving arsenic an adjunct pinch nan Canadian women’s elder nationalist squad successful Tokyo. She remains pinch nan nationalist programme arsenic nan squad useful towards nan Paris 2024 Olympic Games (expect Edwards to beryllium connected that team). At Toronto Metropolitan, she led her programme to an undefeated and U Sports nationalist title successful 2021-22. The UConn crippled was a large infinitesimal for her too. It’s not each time you look a hoops coach pinch a 1,189-159 life grounds and 11 NCAA Division I titles.

“I’m a competitor truthful losing really we mislaid coming score-wise is going to eat astatine maine for nan adjacent 8 days until we believe again,” Clarke said. “But I can’t judge that group don’t want nan opportunity to play that game. We request much of that. We’re getting challenged successful ways that we don’t usually get challenged. Now we’re going to spell successful nan 2nd half (of the) play knowing a batch much astir ourselves and our team. I’m a believer of uncovering ways to get amended and sometimes you’re going to person immoderate difficult knocks on nan way. But look astatine UConn successful their convention now. Five years agone they’re destroying everybody. Now it’s measurement much competitory because those teams played against them each nan time, and they’re figuring retired what they request to do. They’re attracting nan talent they request to compete. That is really NCAA has developed and we tin create those situations for our Canadian programs to proceed to turn and get amended truthful that fans don’t conscionable travel to cheer connected UConn, but they travel to cheer connected TMU and Canadian hoops because it’s really bully and getting better. That was portion of what we’re trying to showcase.”

It was a bully evening for some programs and Clarke is right: 15 years from now, her players will beryllium talking astir that nighttime erstwhile they went caput to caput pinch 1 of nan astir celebrated names successful assemblage basketball. The last score? It will beryllium agelong forgotten.

(Photo of Aaliyah Edwards: Williams Paul / Icon Sportswire)