UConn women’s basketball will have ‘Masked Aaliyah’ Edwards back vs. Jackson State in NCAA Tournament

Injured UConn forward Aaliyah Edwards watches from the sidelines in No. 9 UConn’s 58-29 win over Marquette in the NCAA Big East Women’s Basketball Tournament semifinal game at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. Sunday, March 10, 2024.

Ashlynn Shade said she was a “beast” and KK Arnold called Aaliyah Edwards’ new look a “scary sight.”

“Masked Aaliyah” will make her return to the court this weekend as the senior forward is expected to be 100 percent healthy for UConn women’s basketball after breaking her nose in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals on March 9.

This will be the second time Edwards will wear a protective face mask after sporting one for the majority of last season due to also breaking her nose in the 2022 preseason. The Canadian thrived in the look last year, having a breakout performance which earned her Third Team All-American honors.

Masked Aaliyah' Edwards expected back for UConn vs. Jackson State

“It’s like déjà vu, here we go again,” Edwards said with a grin. “… I love it. I love it. I love it just because it’s kind of like my thing, how I kind of impacted the game, but it’s also like kind of showing the haters to not take us lightly.”

A defender’s elbow swung back and smacked Edwards hard under the basket during the third quarter of the Huskies’ Big East Tournament quarterfinal game against Providence. She immediately fell to the floor, clutching her face and sobbed. Mohegan Sun Arena fell silent as Edwards was assessed by the team’s trainer.

While Edwards was able to get up and walk off the court on her own power, the trainer held a white towel to her nose to cover up the damage. Small puddles of blood were wiped off the court from where Edwards had fallen.

An initial test showed Edwards did not have a concussion but that her nose was “way, way broken,” coach Geno Auriemma said after the win over the Friars.

Edwards sat out the rest of the conference tournament, managing pain and managing the challenge of breathing through her nose as it began to heal.

“It was just a matter of letting everything calm down so that (the mask) fit and she was comfortable enough breathing,” Auriemma said Sunday.

This is the second time Edwards has broken her nose due to contact within the last 18 months. During preseason practices in the fall of 2022, Nika Mühl accidentally smacked Edwards in the face, breaking her nose.

That led to Edwards wearing her – now somewhat signature – clear, plastic face mask for most of last season. And whether it was the mask or UConn’s lack of available players due to injuries, she had a breakout year.

She led the team with 16.6 points per game and had a career-high 9.0 rebounds per game. She was UConn’s best player on the floor every game and earned the Big East’s Most Improved and Tournament Most Outstanding Player awards. Edwards also became the first Husky to earn All-America honors since Bueckers in 2021.

Canadians Abroad Roundup: Aaliyah Edwards playing must-see basketball for UConn

“I kind of prepared her for this moment, so she can thank me later,” Mühl said jokingly with a laugh.

It didn’t faze Edwards to have to pull out the mask once more this past week. Thankfully, she still had it with her on campus.

Edwards said she returned to practice last Wednesday wearing the mask for protection as her nose continues to recover. Unlike last year, when it took a minute for her to get used to playing with the mask, Edwards is now comfortable wearing it and even embraces the look.

UConn head coach Geno Auriemma talks with UConn’s Aaliyah Edwards (3) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in the finals of the Big East Conference tournament at Mohegan Sun Arena, Monday, March 6, 2023, in Uncasville, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill).

“I think one of the issues when I first wore the mask was my peripheral vision,” she said. “I had to turn my head a lot like in help defense and CD (associate head coach Chris Dailey) would yell at me. She’s like, ‘Red line. Just stay on the red line.’

But I’ve gotten used to it.”The forward said she made sure she was at her best before fully returning to the court last week for practice: “I don’t come in 50 percent.” Prior to her nose injury, Edwards led the team with 9.3 rebounds per game and was second with 17.8 points per game.

“She’s an animal, mask or no mask,” Bueckers said. “I’m excited that she’s gonna be playing and she’ll be alright. I’m excited for her. I know she embraces the ‘Masked Aaliyah’ role.”

Edwards’ likely return to the lineup gives UConn eight available players and two forwards for the NCAA Tournament. Auriemma said Sunday that junior forward Amari DeBerry (concussion) will be unavailable the rest of the season.

UConn forward Aaliyah Edwards (3) plays in No. 15 UConn’s 95-64 win over No. 18 Marquette in the NCAA women’s basketball game at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn., Sunday, Dec. 31, 2023.

“Just seeing her in practice and the way she embraces that alter ego, just reminded me of last year and the way she played,” Mühl said of Edwards. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, this year she’s playing even better. So, when you combine the two, I mean, I don’t know what we’re gonna get, but I’m sure it’s gonna be amazing.”

The No. 3 seeded Huskies begin March Madness by hosting No. 14 Jackson State in the first round on Saturday at 1 p.m. (ABC) at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs.

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