South Carolina forward Laeticia Amihere (15) grabs a rebound as Auburn forwards Romi Levy (11) and Unique Thompson (20) defend during second half NCAA college basketball action, in Auburn, Ala., Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021. Laeticia Amihere is part of an impressive group of Canadians in the NCAA women's basketball tournament. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Butch Dill

Canada’s Amihere chasing NCAA title with top-seeded South Carolina

Canada’s Amihere chasing NCAA title with top-seeded South Carolina

One date jumped out at Laeticia Amihere and Aaliyah Edwards when this season’s NCAA women’s basketball schedule was released.

Amihere and the South Carolina Gamecocks faced Edwards and her Connecticut Huskies on Feb. 8, and the two young Canadian women couldn’t wait.

“We talked about it (when the schedule came out),” said Amihere, whose Gamecocks lost the overtime thriller 63-59. “We love competing against each other, and it’s awesome to see both of us at the next level.”

Amihere and Edwards are among an impressive group of Canadians in the NCAA women’s basketball tournament that tips off Sunday in San Antonio. Canada has one player on each of the four top-seeded teams: Amihere, Edwards, Rebecca Demeke (North Carolina State), and Alyssa Jerome (Stanford).

There are 27 women, and the strength and depth of the Canadian contingent is a point of pride for them all.

“Everybody here who are Canadians I’ve played with, just being able to see them play at the next level, we’ve always had that capability and just being able to see it in fruition and seeing everybody here, it’s awesome,” Amihere said.

There’s a camaraderie among the Canadians, Amihere said, that was evident when the Gamecocks beat Tennessee to win the Southeastern Conference title.

“When people win their conference championships, we’re the first to reach out to each other and talk about it and applaud each other,” she said. “As long as we’re not playing each other, we’re rooting for each other.”

The 19-year-old sophomore from Mississauga, Ont., is averaging 6.2 points and five rebounds in 17.4 minutes and brings energy off the bench.

The six-foot-four forward is probably best known as being the first Canadian woman to dunk in a game, throwing it down on a fast break when she was just 15 in an Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) game. She regularly gets asked to show off her dunking prowess, either by media or by teammates. She is constantly asked about the famous dunk, but doesn’t mind.

“I think it’s exciting,” she said.

She hasn’t dunked yet in a college game, not wanting to force it.

Amihere’s mom is from the Ivory Coast and her dad is from Ghana. When school started in the fall after a summer of unrest amid racial injustice in the U.S. and around the globe, she embraced a new leadership role at South Carolina. She’s the head of the diversity and inclusion committee.

“I take a lot of pride in that role,” she said.

Her Twitter handle — and nickname — is @_theblackqueen_.

“My mom is big into our culture,” Amihere told ESPN. “The nickname is just being proud of my culture and feeling like a queen — feeling confident and embracing who I am and my background.”

The Gamecocks tip off Sunday against No. 16 Mercer, and Canadian women’s coach Lisa Thomaidis will be paying close attention.

While there have been Canadian women in the NCAA tournament for years, Thomaidis said the depth and the talent of this group is exciting.

“They’re playing bigger roles on higher-ranked teams. They’re being counted on, relied upon to produce for their teams. Their role is just significantly bigger,” Thomaidis said.

“And so yeah, it sure is a sign of the times and a sign of the quality of the women that are coming from Canada and playing in the NCAA — so that’s really fun to watch.”

They’re also getting big-game experience that they can bring to Canada’s national team.

Amihere, Edwards, Merissa Russell, a freshman guard at Louisville, and Shaina Pellington, a junior guard at Arizona, are among Canada’s pool of 20 players who will be considered for the Tokyo Olympics.

A strong performance in March Madness isn’t the “be all and end all” for Olympic team selection, Thomaidis said. But the extra exposure doesn’t hurt.

“We’re always evaluating and always watching our athletes compete and perform. And so it’s great that we can see them and have that evaluation, and that always helps, the more we get to see them play in different contexts and different experiences,” the coach said.

“It’s not going to determine whether they’re on the team or not, but it’s great to watch them grow and see how they compare to the last time we got to see them play. And when they come into our (senior women’s camp) and compete with the rest of our pool, that’ll be the main determining factor.”

The Canadian women have already clinched a Tokyo Olympic berth.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 19, 2021.

Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press

basketball

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Cowboy Kicks, originally scheduled for May 5, will now take place Sept. 18. (Contributed photo)
Westerner Park’s Cowboy Kicks fundraiser moved to Sept. 18

A major fundraiser for Westerner Park and the Canadian Pro Rodeo Sport… Continue reading

Red Deer Rebels forward Josh Tarzwell tries to tip a point shot past Lethbridge Hurricanes goalie Car Tetachuk in WHL action Friday night at the Centrium. (Photo by ROB WALLATOR/Red Deer Rebels)
Red Deer Rebels struggles continue, drop seventh straight to Hurricanes

Hurricanes score three power-play goals in 6-3 win

Downtown Red Deer patio restaurants have been busy this summer. Contributed photo
City of Red Deer expediting patio application process for restaurants

The City of Red Deer is allowing businesses to install patios prior… Continue reading

RDC Queens forward Camryn Wallan was named the 2020-21 RDC Outstanding Female Athlete of the Year. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Wallan, Podgorenko named 2020-21 RDC Outstanding Athletes of the Year

Even with the cancellation of the 2020-21 Alberta Colleges Athletic Association, RDC… Continue reading

A new Angus Reid poll says that close to two-thirds of Albertans think premier Jason Kenney is doing a bad job handling the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
75% of Albertans disapprove of Kenney’s pandemic leadership: poll

Nearly 75 per cent of Albertans believe Premier Jason Kenney is doing… Continue reading

Red Deer-South MLA Jason Stephan is among those who have signed an open letter criticizing the government’s return to stricter health measures. (Advocate file photo).
Updated: Kenney tells UCP caucus COVID-19 dissent OK, breaking health rules means expulsion

15 MLAs released letter on Wednesday critical of new health restrictions

Here masking tape was applied to both sides of a joint to be caulked. Peeling the tape off as soon as the caulking is smeared with a finger leaves behind a neat edge. (Photo by Robert Maxwell)
Houseworks: Unheated spaces can cause tools to rust

Q: How well do woodworking tools survive in an unheated Canadian workshop?… Continue reading

University of Victoria rowing coach Barney Williams is seen in the stands during the Greater Victoria Invitational at CARSA Performance Gym at the University of Victoria in Victoria, Friday, Nov. 29, 2019. The University of Victoria and the head coach of its women's rowing team have denied allegations of demeaning and aggressive treatment outlined in a lawsuit filed last summer by a former student and team member. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
UVic, women’s rowing coach deny former athlete’s allegation of verbal abuse

UVic, women’s rowing coach deny former athlete’s allegation of verbal abuse

Canada's Julia Grosso, right, and Wales' Natasha Harding battle for the ball during the women's international friendly soccer match at Leckwith Stadium, Wales, Friday, April 9, 2021. Canada blanked Wales 3-0 but lost captain Christine Sinclair to an injury in the fist half of a soccer friendly Friday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-PA, Nick Potts
Canada blanks Wales in soccer friendly but has injury scare with Christine Sinclair

Canada blanks Wales in soccer friendly but has injury scare with Christine Sinclair

Canada's DTH Van Der Merwe, left, is tackled by Hong Kong's Toby Fenn, during the 2019 Japan Rugby Union World Cup qualifying match between Canada and Hong Kong, in Marseille, southern France, Friday, Nov. 23, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Claude Paris
Canadian rugby star DTH van der Merwe enjoying life in Los Angeles

Canadian rugby star DTH van der Merwe enjoying life in Los Angeles

Team Canada skip Brendan Bottcher, right, makes a shot as second Brad Thiessen sweeps against Germany at the Men's World Curling Championships in Calgary, Alta., Friday, April 9, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Canada’s Bottcher heads into men’s world curling playoffs on a winning note

Canada’s Bottcher heads into men’s world curling playoffs on a winning note

Justin Rose, of England, hits out of a bunker on the seventh hole during the second round of the Masters golf tournament on Friday, April 9, 2021, in Augusta, Ga. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
Rose clings to 1-shot Masters lead as Spieth, Thomas lurk

Rose clings to 1-shot Masters lead as Spieth, Thomas lurk

People shop for essential items at Costco as pallets block off aisles and sections that have been deemed non-essential during the COVID-19 pandemic, in Mississauga, Ont., Thursday, April 8, 2021. Retailers in Ontario are adjusting to new lockdown restrictions with stores like grocers, discount and big box chains roping off non-essential items from underwear to calculators. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Ontario retailers adjust to new rules, non-essential goods off-limits to shoppers

Ontario retailers adjust to new rules, non-essential goods off-limits to shoppers

A worker smooths concrete at a construction site in Toronto on January 16, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston
Economy adds 303,000 jobs in March, unemployment rate falls, Statistics Canada says

Economy adds 303,000 jobs in March, unemployment rate falls, Statistics Canada says

Most Read