UConn freshman forward Aaliyah Edwards has some playful trash talking in store with two people tied to Arizona that she knows well.
The Huskies (28-1) face Arizona (20-5) in the Final Four tomorrow at 6:30 p.m. following the match up between Stanford and South Carolina.
Edwards and her teammates have welcomed former Arizona player Tee Tee Starks as a graduate assistant this season and Edwards is familiar with fellow Canadian product Shaina Pellington, a redshirt junior guard with the Wildcats.
Both are from Ontario. Edwards hails from Kingston and Pellington is from Pickering.
“It will be trash talk but it will be more friendly than anything,” said Edwards, the Big East Sixth-Woman of the Year who is averaging 10.8 points and 5.6 rebounds a game.
“Tee has been great with us in this program. Obviously, we’re matched up against her former team and teammates, her other family. Definitely some bias there but I think we’re good. It’s great that she’s a former player because she can definitely share her IQ with us and she’s young and she can relate to us in a different way than other people on the staff.”
Edwards has been a member of Canada Basketball since 2017. She has played 36 games for Canada, including 14 as a member of the Senior International Team. She has played on the Senior team at the 2019 FIBA Olympic Prequalifying Tournament and 2019 FIBA AmeriCup. She also played on the U17 FIBA World Cup and U16 FIBA Americas teams.
Pellington was named to the Senior Women’s Canadian National Team roster in the summer of 2019. That team participated in a five-game European exhibition tour in Belgium and Great Britain. She was one of two collegiate players on the team, which was ranked No. 5 in the world by FIBA. She also represented Canada at the 2019 Pan American Games in Peru.
South Carolina’s Laeticia Amihere and Stanford’s Alyssa Jerome are also representing Ontario and Canada in the Final Four.
“It’s very exciting and it’s also very important that we keep recognizing the four Canadians as part of the Final Four teams,” Edwards said. “I think it’s great to promote it and show fellow Canadians it’s possible that it can happen.
“We obviously joke around about how we’re going to play against each other in the games but it’s more friendly talking, friendly trash-talking but it’s great to have fellow Canadians here.”
Barnes slightly ahead of Auriemma’s Final Four pace
UConn coach Geno Auriemma mentioned that Adia Barnes has him beat by how fast she has coached Arizona’s program to the Final Four.
Auriemma coached the Huskies to their first Final Four in his sixth season of 1990-91, when Barnes was a freshman in high school.
— WNBA (@WNBA) March 31, 2021
Barnes has coached Arizona to its first Final Four in her fifth season.
“There are some similarities,” Auriemma said when asked during a press conference to compare his start at UConn with Barnes’ at Arizona.
UConn’s women’s basketball program was in its 12th year of existence when Auriemma took the job at age 31. The Huskies had only one winning season in those 12 years.
Auriemma earned his first winning season in his second year (1985-86) and has not experienced a losing season since.
Barnes was 39 when she was hired at her alma mater in 2016, almost two decades after she played for Arizona’s Sweet 16 team that lost to UConn and Auriemma in 1997-98. The Wildcats had losing seasons in 10 of its previous 11 years before she was hired.
After Barnes went 20-40 in her first two seasons, she has gone 68-25 since.
“You know, the program that I took over, and the school that I started coaching at is nowhere near what Adia took over, but then again, the biggest conference wasn’t the Pac-12,” Auriemma said. “She went into a situation where they had not had success for a long, long, long, long time.
“They’ve shown that every year they’re able to build on the year before and without compromising who she is and what kind of player she’s looking for and the style of play. They’re not changing every year, trying to chase that that newest thing, you know? I think Adia knows who she is, she knows what she wants, she knows what she’s looking for in a player. Over a period of time, she’s done it.”
Barnes’ respect for Auriemma is enhanced by the former UConn players she has befriended over the years in the WNBA and in coaching circles.
Former Arizona assistant Morgan Valley, who was on Barnes’ staff when the Wildcats won the 2019 WNIT title, played at UConn from 2000-04. She appeared in four Final Fours and won three titles.
“I have so much respect for Geno,” Barnes said. “A lot of my friends have played in his programs. I’ve watched him for years. (Former UConn All-American) Sue Bird was one of my best friends and teammates for many years (in the WNBA). I got to see the type of player he produces. I thought his program was elite in the way he develops leaders.
“I love the way he’s so transparent. He supports women’s basketball, he develops young leaders — all those things. I respect him so much for that.”
UConn’s Chrystn Williams on guarding Aari McDonald: “She’s a handful”
UConn junior guard Chrystn Williams should be matched often against Arizona All-American guard Aari McDonald in Friday’s game. Williams, at 5-foot-11, may have a height advantage against McDonald, who is 5-6, but that does not become a factor if McDonald can speed by her to the basket.
“She’s a great player. She’s very quick. She can shoot. She can get to the basket. She can create space for herself,” Williams said. “She’s a handful and we know that coming into the game it will take a total team effort to contain her.
“My mentality going into the game will be the same when I faced (Iowa’s) Caityln Clark and all the other good guards I’ve faced throughout the season.”
Williams mentioned that Arizona with McDonald’s speed at the top of the perimeter is a “totally different look, no other team reminds me of them.”
The Wildcats opened as a 12.5 point underdog to UConn in the Las Vegas odds. As of Thursday night, the line moved to 13.5 points in favor of the Huskies.
“We’re the underdogs,” McDonald acknowledged. “I mean, we’re gonna play loose and free. We’re just gonna keep having fun. We’ve been just trying to hang out with each other and keep each other’s spirits high. We’re just trying to be positive. That’s all we can do to be free.”
They also visited a San Antonio zoo on Wednesday and fed giraffes, as did UConn, and that allowed both team to bond briefly away from the basketball court.
“I’m not tight. We’re not tight. It’s like we’re in an awesome situation,” Barnes said. “I’m trying to emphasize to the players to enjoy the moment and to live in the moment because it’s really hard to get here.
“I think there’s a lot of players in the world and country that will never go to a final four will never win a championship. So I think we have to live in the moment.”
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.