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Canadians are chasing championships this weekend

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Top Canadian athletes are competing in hockey and curling world championships, an exclusive soccer tournament and the college basketball Final Fours this weekend. Here’s your guide.

Basketball: NCAA Final Fours

The most anticipated women’s tournament ever is living up to the hype, with compelling characters delivering masterful performances to send their teams to the Final Four. Iowa megastar Caitlin Clark scored 41 points to vanquish Kim Mulkey and Angel Reese’s defending champion LSU in a rematch of last year’s title game. Paige Bueckers outduelled USC freshman phenom JuJu Watkins to put storied UConn back in the national semifinals. Top-ranked South Carolina rolled in with a perfect 36-0 record for the second straight year.

The men’s tournament has been pretty interesting too. It has its own juggernaut in UConn, outscoring their opponents by an average of almost 28 points in their bid to become the first repeat champion in 17 years. Purdue, led by Canadian giant Zach Edey, bounced back from last year’s humiliating first-round defeat to a 16 seed by reaching the school’s first Final Four since 1980. And Cinderella NC State, an 11 seed powered by lovable big man DJ Burns, evoked memories of the late Jim Valvano by returning to the national semis for the first time since the iconic coach’s improbable championship in 1983.

Better yet, the Canadian content is quite strong in both Final Fours.

The aforementioned Edey is the most dominant player in men’s college basketball. Today the 7-foot-4 centre from Toronto was named AP’s player of the year for the second straight season after leading the NCAA in scoring and placing near the top in rebounding for one of the best teams in the nation. Edey has been an absolute monster in the tournament, averaging 30 points and 16 rebounds after dropping 40 points on Tennessee to send his 1-seeded Boilermakers to the Final Four.

On Saturday at 6 p.m. ET near Phoenix, Edey will battle Burns, the 6-foot-9, 275-pound NC State marvel who has become the tournament’s unofficial mascot. His physique is, let’s say, non-traditional, but Burns is seriously skilled. He drew praise from NBA star Nikola Jokic — the best big man in the world — after his 29-point explosion in the Wolfpack’s upset of Duke in the Elite Eight. That was NC State’s ninth consecutive victory dating back to the start of their conference championship tournament, where they needed to win five games in five days just to get into the March Madness bracket.

The winner of the Purdue-NC State matchup will face either top-ranked UConn or Alabama, a 4 seed hoping to pull off a massive upset of the defending champs, for the national title on Monday night.

The women’s Final Four, starting tonight in Cleveland, includes Canadian Aaliyah Edwards. She’s the No. 2 scorer and top rebounder for UConn, the most successful program in women’s college basketball history. After a rare Final Four miss last year, the 11-time national champs are back for an incredible 15th time in the last 16 tournaments.

Tonight at 9:30 p.m. ET, Edwards and her Huskies face Caitlin Clark, the Iowa sensation who recently became the highest scorer in the history of college basketball and is the biggest star in the sport — women’s or men’s. But UConn has a dynamite 6-foot guard of its own in Paige Bueckers, the national player of the year as a freshman in 2020-21 before knee injuries derailed her next two seasons. Bueckers can’t match Clark’s incredible scoring and playmaking skills (no one can), but she’s a better defender and a remarkably versatile offensive player in her own right, averaging 28 points, nine rebounds and five assists in the tournament. Clark is at an otherworldly 32 points, seven rebounds and nine assists for the season.

The winner will face undefeated South Carolina or NC State (like UConn, a double Final Four qualifier) for the national championship on Sunday at 3 p.m. ET.

After their respective Final Fours, both Edwards and Edey are going pro. Edwards declared for the WNBA draft last month and is projected to go a few picks behind Clark. Edey will almost certainly re-enter the NBA draft after changing his mind last year and returning to school.

Edwards and Edey are expected to play for Canada at this summer’s Olympics in Paris, where Canada has qualified a team for both the men’s and women’s events for the first time since 2000.

Hockey: Women’s world championship

Olympic-champion Canada began its quest to recapture the world title last night with a 4-1 win over Finland in Utica, N.Y. Julia Gosling, one of the few newcomers on a veteran-heavy Canadian team, scored in her worlds debut while Ann-Renee Desbiens made 33 saves.

At our publish time, Canada was in the middle of a matchup vs. Switzerland. The Canadians face the Czech Republic, last year’s bronze medallists, on Sunday at 3 p.m. ET before closing out their preliminary round against the rival United States on Monday night.

The Americans took the world title from Canada last year in Brampton, Ont., with a 6-3 victory in the championship game. Read our primer for this year’s tournament here

Curling: Men’s world championship

Brad Gushue’s Canadian team secured a first-round playoff bye today with blowout wins over Japan and host Switzerland to finish 10-2 in the preliminary stage.

Canada is the No. 2 seed for this weekend’s playoffs. Sweden took the top seed at 11-1. Skip Nik Edin, a six-time world champion and reigning Olympic gold medallist, didn’t lose until falling 8-6 to defending champ Bruce Mouat of Scotland in the final draw. The Scotts have the same 10-2 record as Canada but finished third because they lost to Gushue’s team.

At the world championship, the top six teams qualify for the playoffs and the top two get a bye. The first-round matchups for early Saturday morning are Scotland vs. the United States (7-5) and Germany (8-4) vs. Italy (8-4). The winners meet Sweden or Canada in the semifinals at 10 a.m. ET.

The semifinal winners play for the gold medal on Sunday at 9 a.m. ET. The losers meet for the bronze at 4 a.m. ET. 

Gushue, who captured his record-extending sixth Brier trophy last month, is seeking Canada’s first men’s world title since 2017, when he won it. Edin took the next four in a row before Gushue eliminated him in the playoffs last year in Ottawa, only to lose to Mouat in the final.

Soccer: SheBelieves Cup

This four-team mini-tournament in the United States affords the Canadian women’s soccer team the chance to play a pair of global top-10 opponents as they prepare to defend their Olympic title this summer in Paris.

Ninth-ranked Canada faces No. 10 Brazil on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET in Atlanta. Right before that, the fourth-ranked United States meets No. 7 Japan. The winners square off for the Cup on Tuesday night in Columbus, Ohio while the losers play for third place. All four teams are playing in the Olympics this summer in Paris.

Canada, which lost to the U.S. in the semifinals of their continental championship last month, should get a boost from the return of key forward Janine Beckie and midfielder Desiree Scott. Both suffered severe knee injuries that sidelined them for last summer’s Women’s World Cup, where Canada failed to advance out of its group. But other Canadian players are out with injuries. Here’s our primer for the SheBelieves Cup.

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