NCAA Women’s Tournament: Canadian Awards
After a difficult year off, March Madness returned in spectacular fashion this past month, producing an incredible tournament that featured both dominance from big schools and surprising upsets from hungry underdogs. In terms of a local focus, there were more Canadian players than ever before, and many of them featured in large roles. With March Madness now officially behind us, we will take one last look at the tournament that was, and hand out our first ever March Madness Canadian Awards to the deserving Canadians who played their best on the biggest stage.
Most Outstanding Canadian: Laeticia Amihere (So.) – South Carolina
The award for Most Outstanding Canadian was an extremely tight race, but in the end, it was given to the outstanding sophomore from South Carolina: Laeticia Amihere. The South Carolina Gamecocks made an extended run in the tournament all the way to the Final Four, and were a missed buzzer beater away from advancing past Stanford to the finals. Despite not starting a game, Amihere was one of the most valuable players on #1 South Carolina without a doubt, putting up efficiency numbers that are hard to believe. In limited time, Amihere scored in double digits on 3 occasions in the tournament, with the peak being a 15-point performance in the Sweet 16 against Georgia Tech. Amihere then went on to do the unthinkable and record 9 blocks against Texas in the Elite Eight, carrying her team to the Final Four. Her performances were remarkable, and should make basketball fans in this country excited to see what she can offer next season in South Carolina, especially if she’s given more court-time to dominate. For this year though, her consistent tournament play earns her the award for Most Outstanding Canadian.
Most Improved Canadian: Shaina Pellington (Jr.) – Arizona
From the beginning of the season to the championship game, no Canadian in the NCAA improved as much as Shaina Pellington, making her very deserving to take home this award. Pellington had a solid first season with Arizona, typically coming off of the bench to provide energy and play both sides of the ball. Arizona came into the tournament as a #3 seed, and was able to shock the basketball world with a run to the finals, knocking off juggernaut UConn in the Final Four. For most of the tournament, Pellington contributed at her usual pace, receiving anywhere from 7 to 19 minutes per night and scoring around 4 PPG. All of that changed though in the national title game under the brightest lights, as Pellington scored 15 points (just 1 away from her season-high), alongside seven rebounds. Not only was Pellington one of the key players off of the bench, she was one of the best players on the entire team, and for a Canadian to be doing that in the national championship game is something we don’t get to see very often. After being forced to miss the entirety of last season due to NCAA transfer rules(from Oklahoma), Pellington bounced back and balled out in the national title game despite a loss, making her the Most Improved Canadian of the 2021 Tournament.
Best Canadian Freshman: Aaliyah Edwards (Fr.) – UConn
You could easily make the case that Aaliyah Edwards was the best Canadian all season long this past year, and she came ever-so-close to taking home the Most Outstanding Canadian Award. Deservingly so, her amazing year will still be recognized as she takes home the Best Canadian Freshman, blowing every other candidate out of the water. Typically, the first year of college basketball for a freshman is to sit back and learn, but that was not the case for Edwards whatsoever. Edwards jumped into the deep end by receiving minutes right away on one of the best teams in college basketball in UConn, and played well while doing so. Edwards was one of the key scorers for the team despite coming off of the bench, and due to injury, was moved to the starting lineup by the second round of the tournament. Edwards scored 17, 19, and 18 points respectively in her first three March Madness games, flexing her complete dominance. As the tournament grew on, Edwards’ production fell back a little bit, but she still had a solid 8 point 7 rebound 4 assist game in the Final Four vs Arizona. Edwards proved that the sky truly is the limit for herself moving forward, and the thought of what she’s capable of next season is absolutely terrifying considering the performances she was able to put together all year, especially in the tournament.
Best Canadian Senior: Hailey Brown (Sr.) – Michigan
Hailey Brown has started every single game she’s played in for Michigan over the past four years, and her illustrious collegiate career came to an end this past tournament in the Sweet 16 vs Baylor. Despite the fact that the Wolverines didn’t make it as far in the tournament as they may have liked to, they still had a solid showing, and Hailey Brown specifically balled out in her three appearances. Brown scored 10 points and had 5 rebounds against FGCU in the first round, and had her best performance of the tournament in the second round against Tennessee where she scored 14 points on 4/6 shooting. Although they lost, Brown was solid in the Sweet 16 as well with 6 points 4 rebounds and 4 assists in her last game as a Wolverine. Brown had a remarkable career with Michigan, and her performances in the tournament made her the obvious choice for the 2021 Best Canadian Senior Award.
Written by Kyle Oliveira