Canadians will play key roles in women's March Madness
UConn's Edwards, South Carolina's Amihere fuel top Final Four contenders
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March has officially gone mad. The NCAA basketball tournaments tipped off last night (sort of) with the first play-in games for the men, whose 64-team bracket begins Thursday. The women's play-ins get going tonight, with the tournament proper starting Friday.
We covered the Canadians to watch in the men's tourney in yesterday's newsletter. Now let's look at the top Canadian women vying for a spot in their Final Four in Dallas:
Laeticia Amihere, forward, South Carolina (No. 1 seed in the Greenville 1 regional): After averaging 7.1 points, 3.4 rebounds and 1.1 blocks off the bench for the most dominant team in college basketball, the versatile 6-foot-4 senior from Mississauga, Ont., could get picked in this year's WNBA draft. But first, Amihere will try to help the 32-0 Gamecocks complete a perfect season by winning their second straight national championship.
Aaliyah Edwards, forward, UConn (No. 2 seed in Seattle 3 regional): With superstar guard Paige Bueckers lost for the entire season to a knee injury, Edwards stepped up and helped keep perennial-powerhouse Connecticut in title contention by averaging a team-high 16.6 points along with 9.2 rebounds and winning MVP of the Big East tournament. The strong-and-skilled 6-foot-3 junior from Kingston, Ont., now looks to lead the Huskies to their 15th consecutive Final Four — and maybe avenge their loss to Amihere's Gamecocks in last year's title game.
Shayeann Day-Wilson, guard, Duke (No. 3 seed in Seattle 4 regional): The exciting 5-foot-6 sophomore is averaging 8.4 points and a team-high 2.5 assists as the starting point guard for one of the most improved teams in the country. Duke missed the tournament last year as Day-Wilson struggled with turnovers and shot selection. With the Torontonian deploying her considerable skills more efficiently this season, the Blue Devils went 25-6.
Shaina Pellington, guard, Arizona (No. 7 seed in Greenville 1 regional): Entering her final college tournament, the 5-foot-8 senior point guard from Pickering, Ont., leads the Wildcats in points (13.3), assists (3.7) and field-goal percentage (53.5). Last month, she dropped a career-high 35 points, plus eight rebounds and five steals, on a Utah team ranked No. 4 in the country at the time. Pellington, who helped Arizona reach the national-title game two years ago, passed the 1,500-point milestone this season.
Yvonne Ejim, forward, Gonzaga (No. 9 seed in Seattle 4 regional): The highest-scoring Canadian in NCAA Division I women's basketball, Ejim led the Bulldogs in both points (16.7) and rebounds (8.4) this season. An aspiring doctor who enjoys calculus, the paint-dominating 6-foot-1 junior from Calgary "has all the tools" needed on the court, according to her coach.
Others to watch: Tara Wallack averages 9.2 points and 5.4 rebounds as a starting guard for Washington State, a 5 seed, while her teammate Jessica Clarke averages 4.8 points and 2.5 boards at centre. Guards Cassandre Prosper (with 3 seed Notre Dame), Merissah Russell (5 seed Louisville) and Lashae Dwyer (9 seed Miami) are also averaging a handful of points for notable teams.