Aaliyah Edwards on her difficult decision to leave UConn, her broken nose and her last dance at Gampel

STORRS – Over the next few days, Aaliyah Edwards will play for the last time at Gampel Pavilion.

Edwards, a senior, announced Thursday on social media that she will be leaving UConn after this season, declaring her intention to enter the WNBA draft.

Third-seeded UConn (29-5) will face No. 14 Jackson State (26-6) in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in front of a sellout crowd at Gampel  Saturday at 1 p.m.

Edwards, who broke her nose when she was elbowed by a Providence player in the Big East quarterfinal game March 9, missed the Big East tournament semifinal and championship games. But she will be back Saturday, wearing a mask that she wore much of last year after breaking her nose in practice.

“I think I’m going to feel a lot more love than I usually do in Gampel,” she said Friday. “I’ve been playing in Gampel for a while now so I feel like the crowd is going to cheer a bit louder.

As long as they’re cheering for UConn, that’s all I can ask for and it’s going to feel special, but I just want to stay present and stay in the moment.”


UConn Huskies forward Aaliyah Edwards (3) tries to maintain control of the ball while pressured by Providence in a Big East Tournament quarterfinal game at the Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, March 9, 2024. UConn led at the half, 38-28. Photo by Cloe Poisson/Special to the Courant
UConn Huskies forward Aaliyah Edwards (3) tries to maintain control of the ball while pressured by Providence in a Big East Tournament quarterfinal game at the Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, March 9, 2024. UConn led at the half, 38-28. Photo by Cloe Poisson/Special to the Courant
Edwards, who had another year of eligibility, said it was a difficult decision for her to make. She said she told Auriemma after the Big East Tournament.

“Oh my gosh, if it was easy I would have made the decision at the start of the season,” she said. “Everyone can see how special this team is. But behind the scenes, they’re even more special to me.

“But I don’t want to take away from what we have left to do. It’s a celebration, so I try to emphasize just how great this program has treated me, how great my teammates and coach have treated me and how special this family is to me, and I want to keep it that way. But we’re not done yet. We still have a lot of games to play, and we’re still trying to achieve our goal.”

Edwards is the second-leading scorer on the team, averaging 17.8 points and 9.3 rebounds. She is 22 rebounds short of 1,000 for her career and in the last 10 games, she averaged 19.5 points and 11.5 rebounds with seven double-doubles.
UConn Huskies guard Ines Bettencourt (21) caresses UConn Huskies forward Aaliyah Edwards (3) on the knee while associate head coach checks on her after she returned to the bench after being elbowed in the nose by a Providence player in the second half in a Big East Tournament quarterfinal game at the Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, March 9, 2024. UConn won, 86-53. Photo by Cloe Poisson/Special to the Courant

UConn Huskies guard Ines Bettencourt (21) caresses UConn Huskies forward Aaliyah Edwards (3) on the knee while associate head coach checks on her after she returned to the bench after being elbowed in the nose by a Providence player in the second half in a Big East Tournament quarterfinal game at the Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, March 9, 2024. UConn won, 86-53. Photo by Cloe Poisson/Special to the Courant
Fellow senior Nika Muhl had previously announced she would not be returning to UConn. Teammates Paige Bueckers and Aubrey Griffin announced on Senior Night they’re coming back. Muhl, from Croatia, and Edwards, from Canada, do not have the same opportunities to earn name-image-likeness income in college as their U.S. counterparts.

UConn coach Geno Auriemma had said Monday that he expected Edwards to leave, although he did not reveal her decision.

“There’s only been actually two conversations that I’ve had with Aaliyah about this,” Auriemma said Friday. “One was a while back when it was brought to my attention that she might consider coming back. So I talked to her about it and gave her all the pros and cons, and at the end of the day I said it’s going to be your comfort level, and whichever way you go, obviously we’ll be fine with it.

“But I always thought it was a real, real long shot because I think there is a cycle in college basketball. You spend four years someplace, you pretty much pour everything you have into it, and then it’s time to move on and go on to the next phase of your life. Nika’s reason for doing it may have been different than Aaliyah’s. I don’t think Nika is going to be a top 5, 6 or 7 (WNBA) draft pick, so her reasons may be different for going. And Paige’s situation is different for staying.”

Edwards said she was doing “well physically.”

“The mask is going to make an appearance again,” she said. “But I’ve worn it before, so I’m more used to it now. But yeah, I’m not going to let it distract me or anything like that.”

Bueckers said she was partly sad and partly proud of what Edwards was able to accomplish at UConn.

“I’m just trying to embrace the rest of the time that we have left and not even thinking about the fact that (Muhl and Edwards) are both leaving,” she said.

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