By Pat Eaton-robb, The Associated Press on December 19, 2023.
HARTFORD, Conn. – Don’t call it an exhibition.
No. 17 UConn is headed to Canada for a game Wednesday against Toronto Metropolitan University, which is not an NCAA team but a member of the Canadian organization U Sports.
Rick Nixon, a spokesman for the NCAA, said the game will be recognized as a regular-season contest and all the statistics will count under the organizations’ rules involving “outside competitions.” The only caveat, he said, it that because TMU (10-0) is not an NCAA Division I opponent, a win or a loss won’t be calculated in UConn’s NET rankings for consideration in postseason seeding.
The game was scheduled as part of a tradition at Connecticut in which UConn coach Geno Auriemma tries to give his players from out of state at least one “homecoming” game in their careers at a school near their hometown.
This one is for UConn senior Aaliyah Edwards, who is from Kingston, Ont., and played high school ball in Toronto and is a member of the Canadian national team.
“For me, it’s just going to be exciting to be in that environment and to have my UConn family play at home,” she said. “We’re going to treat it as an out-of-conference game and then whatever coach needs for us to do and execute throughout that game, we’re going to do it.”
The opponent was supposed to be Pittsburgh, which at the time of the agreement also had a couple of Canadian players. But the Panthers backed out of the game after a coaching change in March, leaving UConn scrambling to find a replacement.
TMU stepped in. The school is led by Carly Clarke, who also helps coach the national team.
“In our case, related to the TMU game, and given our overall strength of schedule, we did not feel that it mattered that this particular competition was against a school in Canada,” said Neal Eskin, UConn’s executive associate athletic director.
Auriemma said it has sometimes been frustrating over the years to schedule homecoming games for his players. UConn had to play at Colgate, for example, during Breanna Stewart’s career, when Syracuse declined to give her a game in her hometown.
“It should be easy, you would think,” Auriemma said. “What coach would not want to do it? But you’d be surprised. People, for whatever reason, just don’t want to schedule you.”
The schools that agree to play the 11-time national champions never regret it, no matter the outcome, he said.
“Every time we play a game where one of our players are from, that program has benefitted from playing us,” he said. “I remember playing Pepperdine in (Diana Taurasi)’s freshman year. She played lousy, but the place was packed.”
The main goal, of course, is to say thank you to a player and their family for choosing to come to UConn. And the school will go to great lengths to do that. This summer, UConn traveled to Croatia to play exhibition games in front of guard Nika Muhl’s friends and family.
Muhl said she believes her association with UConn is helping grow the women’s game in her country and that having young Croatian girls and boys come up and ask for her autograph was one of the best experiences of her life.
“I’m never going to forget those moments,” she said.
Wednesday’s game at Toronto’s Mattamy Athletic Centre is a sellout and Edwards said she hopes it will also give the game more northern exposure.
“It’s buzzin’,” Edwards said of the atmosphere surrounding the contest. “There’s a lot of buzz.”
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