We are officially under a week away from having the historic University of Connecticut women’s basketball team take to the Canadian court as they travel north to take on the Toronto Metropolitan University Bold. The December 20th matchup will be UConn senior Aaliyah Edwards’ homecoming, as the Kingston native will play in front of friends and family at the sold-out Mattamy Athletic Center.
Let’s dive into both programs ahead of the big game!
Seasons so Far
For all intents and purposes, the Bold’s season has been a perfect 10, with the squad 10-10 on their season. As one of five unbeaten teams in the country at winter break, TMU sit 10th in the latest national rankings which given how the preseason went, is a welcome return to form for the 2022 Canadian national champions.
The Bold went 3-6 in the preseason, with multiple uncharacteristic blowout losses that raised some eyebrows. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the coaching pedigree on the sidelines, the ups and downs are in the rearview mirror with a deep playoff run firmly on the horizon.
The biggest storyline of the season so far though is the fact they are doing this with such a young team. The Bold brought in six rookies this year and they have made an immediate impact both as starters and key bench players. The team is led by lone fourth-year player, Kaillie Hall, who has done an impeccable job unifying players of all years regardless of how long they’ve been in the program.
All in all, 2023 has started off strongly for TMU and they’ll look to close it out on a high note against the Huskies.
It’s hard to talk about UConn’s season so far without addressing the insane case of the injury bug that has bitten the squad. The most devastating injury has been Azzi Fudd’s ACL tear. The junior guard was deemed out for the season back on November 22 and the team has certainly been forced to shift their approach to offense without her.
The Huskies also lost Jana El Alfy and Ayanna Patterson to long-term injuries, and Caroline Ducharme has struggled to stay healthy. It’s hard to imagine that the recent bout of injuries hasn’t taken a mental toll on a squad who has seemingly done nothing but have to bounce back from injuries up and down the lineup for the greater part of the last few seasons.
The physical and mental toll shows on the court, with UConn starting out with a 6-3 record — seeing a historic drop in the AP Poll. The most recent rankings featured the Huskies in 17th, a level they haven’t been at in a VERY long time. For context, the last time UConn was this low in an AP Poll, Princess Diana was withdrawing from public view and Schindler’s List was en route to sweeping the Oscars.
All that being said, it would be foolish (and dangerous to opponents) to underestimate the Huskies. When a program has been at the top of the basketball world for as long as they have, not only are down periods inevitable, but so is the ability for them to bounce right back up.
Jayme Foreman is a bonafide superstar who will be sure to give the Huskies a handful on defense. Foreman has risen to stardom within the TMU system quickly, having gone from averaging five minutes a game in her first year to over 32 minutes last year, and still climbing this season.
Anyone who tunes into the action on December 20 will notice that Foreman has one of the most effortless three-point shots in the game and she uses it to sink other teams. The Hamilton-native has sunk 23 shots from beyond the arc, good for a .343% clip and the team lead. She also leads the team in total points at 163 and total made field goals with 57.
Not only does Foreman produce, but she creates for herself and others. Her ability to get downhill to make opportunities out of seemingly nothing for teammates is unmatched within Ontario University Athletics. It’s evident that the guard has full confidence in her shot and if the Huskies let her get hot, this game could unfold far differently from how some fans may expect.
Foreman’s offensive prowess is complimented by Kaillie Hall’s defensive domination to make for a truly terrifying duo. Hall has been a star in the making ever since arriving to TMU from NCAA D1 side, Bowling Green University. Also from Hamilton, the guard leads the team in assists with 39 and is one of the most prolific passers in the OUA.
It’s impossible to watch a Bold game without admiring the physicality Hall brings to the game and the absolute fearlessness with which she attacks the basket. Her drive has resulted in a whopping 50 free throw attempts, 39 of which have been sunk. While the other side to Hall’s signature style is that she leads the team in personal fouls, the heart and grit she brings to the court is worth every one.
Fans of the Bold also may have noticed that the former NCAA baller has significantly upped her offensive game. A highlight in that regard came against the University of Toronto Varsity Blues, where Hall crushed her previous career high in points, besting her previous 18 with a staggering 24. The same game also saw a new career high in three-pointers made.
It’s hard to call this season a breakout one for Hall but it has certainly been an announcement; the improvement of her offensive game to be second on the team in points, combined with somehow even more dominant defensive play, and as the longest tenured player, Hall has put the league on notice and the Huskies are in for a fight like no other in trying to contain her.
Did you think I would tell you about the UConn stars without highlighting Paige Bueckers? Of course I wouldn’t.
As a freshman player, Bueckers took home AP Freshman of the Year and Player of the Year. Her dominance was undisputed and it truly looked like we were about to witness the newest edition of a Huskies dynasty led by the Minnesota-native.
One more time for Paige’s game vs. UNC pic.twitter.com/7y9eAXvRbS— UConn Women’s Basketball (@UConnWBB) December 12, 2023
Unfortunately, the dynasty was never built as Bueckers has had to fight through heartbreaking injury after heartbreaking injury. Finally, in her senior season, the world is getting to witness, and her teammates are getting to play alongside, a healthy Paige Bueckers — and it has been a treat.
Through nine games, Bueckers is averaging 19.8 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 2.7 assists. Both her point totals and rebounds are just a hair shy of her freshman season numbers, with only the assists lagging behind the numbers she put up in that award winning season. She also leads the team in steals with an average of two per game.
While Bueckers likely won’t play a ton of minutes while in Toronto, the Bold will have their hands full trying to stop the projected second overall pick in the upcoming WNBA Draft.
It wouldn’t be right to tell you the story of UConn stars without highlighting the reason the game is going down in the first place; Aaliyah Edwards. The senior from Kingston, Ontario had a breakout season last year, which came as no surprise to Canadian basketball fans as she’s been a feature in the red and white for a while now.
Through nine games this season, Edwards has maintained her fiery pace of last year, averaging 15.8 points per game to go along with 7.7 rebounds per outing. While both numbers are slightly shy of last season, it shouldn’t be long before she eclipses the bar she set for herself, especially as the Huskies find their groove again.
What truly stands out about Edwards is her post play. Her dominant play down low has allowed the Huskies to stay in games where they otherwise might not have been able to, thanks to her size and instincts. Once you watch the senior in the paint, it’s no wonder why she’s projected to go fifth in the upcoming draft.
When looking at the rest of TMU’s starters, it begins to click as to why they’ve gone out and dominated teams in the early stages of games this season: they’re all ballers.
Haley Fedick, a third year forward, sinks threes easier than I tie my shoes most days. This season is a new role for Fedick, with her firmly taking over from Bold icon Rachel Farwell, who graduated last year, as the floor general who is as invaluable on offence as she is on defence. To go along with her seemingly automatic shot from beyond the arc, the Alberta-native has hauled in a monster, team-leading 68 defensive rebounds.
Fedick’s forward partner, rookie Corynne Parker, has done more than impress through her first 10 OUA games. She’s started all 10 games alongside Foreman, Hall, and Fedick and has fit right in with the established, high performing group. In just her third OUA game, the Fenwick-born freshman put up a team leading 22 points to help lead the Bold to a 71-65 win, an unsurprising number when you realize she sinks 3s at a 31% clip.
Rounding out the starting five is rookie sensation Catrina Garvey who has redefined what a first-year player can do. While Garvey has missed a game, she still sits third on the team in points with 124 and has had no problem running the Bold’s high octane offence. Perhaps the most impressive moment of Garvey’s young career came against the rival Varsity Blues when she sunk the game-winning shot with 50 seconds left to lock in an 81-79 victory. With the ice in her veins this early, it’s hard to imagine where Garvey’s ceiling is, both against UConn and beyond.
The Huskies are bringing a starting five unlike anything the Bold have seen this season, but certainly a challenge that the TMU side will be up for.
While UConn’s light shines brightest on Bueckers and Edwards, the power runs through Nika Muhl. The 5’11 guard from Zagreb, Croatia has a knack for facilitating play in a way that is well beyond her years as a college senior. The Huskies’ offence runs through Muhl and is able to do so effectively because of her ability to turn nothing into something dangerous. When not creating offence, Muhl is a standout on defence, a combination of skills and creativity that will certainly give the Bold a headache.
Up next is Caroline Ducharme, now in her junior year. While Ducharme has had health struggles of her own, she’s certainly established herself alongside the faces of the program through her four starts. The Bold will need to be careful to not let the 6’2 guard get hot if she plays, because when she does go on a run, she can make an impact.
Finally in the Huskies starting rotation is another player with Toronto ties; senior Aubrey Griffin, daughter of longtime Raptors’ assistant coach Adrian Griffin. The veteran G/F has been vital to UConn at various points throughout the season but especially this year as they’ve struggled for consistency. Griffin’s defensive prowess and rebounding will be a tall task to get through for TMU, but it’s sure to deliver some matchups to remember against the Bold’s offence.
BEWARE OF THE BENCH
Toronto has seen its fair share of bench mobs in Raptors red but the one being run in Bold blue is a sight to behold. If the Huskies can calm the storm of the starting five, they’ll be rewarded with an onslaught of talent that can run TMU’s signature suffocating defence and high-octane offence just as well as the five before them.
If UConn want to get the best of the Bold bench, they’ll have to make sure not to sleep on second year forward Jessica Keripe. The New-Brunswick native has a sneaky ability to get to the basket and can just as easily shut the opponent down.
Another sleeper player on the Bold roster is first year forward Hailey Franco-DeRyck, who leads the team in rebounds while averaging just under 20 minutes a game. An opponent’s defensive nightmare, Franco-DeRyck also leads the team in blocks with 11, more than double her next closest teammate.
Coach Carly Clarke has built a team that can terrorize opponents from top to bottom but their toughest test is yet to come as the wait to welcome one of the most successful programs the sport has ever seen.
When you’ve been bit by the injury bug as hard as the Huskies have, it’s no wonder that the bench is something to be wary of. UConn have the luxury of a wealth of young talent to draw from, highlighted by KK Arnold and Ice Brady.
Arnold is an exciting, top-ranked freshman who has already found a way to play a big role with her new squad, contributing across the floor through her nine appearances so far. Brady, who other than having one of the best names in the league, is turning heads this season as a redshirt freshman. After suffering an injury in her freshman season, UConn fans should be excited by her rapid development this year.
All in all, Geno Auriemma has dipped into his bench far more than he has in anyone’s memory but it has opened the door for development for the next generation who could potentially return the program to the promised land.
If you got a ticket to watch these two programs face off, you’re in for a treat. Not only will basketball fans be treated to some incredible talent on the court, it will be a unique chance to watch two of the best bench bosses in the game duke it out head to head.
Carly Clarke is one of the premier coaches in this country and has coached Edwards in the red and white throughout the youngster’s time in the national program. Geno Auriemma has built some of the most impressive records in basketball history, even sports history (111 straight wins seems like it could stand forever). Any basketball fan will be lucky to observe how these two deploy scarily deep rosters in what is sure to be a momentous occasion for the sport.
Be sure to tap in with the players and programs on socials (@TMUBoldwbb & @UConnWBB) to stay up to date on how they’re preparing for the event. If you can’t be there in person, the game will be streamed on TSN+, a production led by a group of TMU students you can learn more about on Instagram at @dukesprod!