I’m not sure how a Pac-12 Freshman of the Year could fly under the radar, but that’s exactly what happened.
Kentucky Wildcats Women’s Basketball forward Dre’Una Edwards took claim to that title during the 2018-19 season as a first-year player at the University of Utah. But an ACL injury cost her the final four games of the Utes’ regular season and the resulting postseason appearance. She eventually moved to Kentucky where she had to sit out an entire season due to NCAA transfer rules, watching the 2019-20 Wildcats from the sidelines.
Interim head coach Kyra Elzy had been hyping up the redshirt sophomore since she took over as the head woman in charge. Elzy teased that Edwards could shoot from 3 now (she attempted just one during her first-year at Utah), that she could play the “3” position if necessary, and that her passing skills were vastly underrated. Senior forward KeKe McKinney was bragging on the 6-foot-2 stretch-forward before the season began, as well.
“She [Edwards] does have the ability to stretch the floor,” Coach Elzy told KSR ahead of the season-opener. “What’s been fun to watch in practice is she can get it off the glass and lead the break and she can make phenomenal decisions as far as passing. She can take it in and score, she can pick and pop and shoot the 3. So our hope for her is that we will able to play her in multiple positions. She has a really high basketball IQ as well.”
There wasn’t an aspect of Edwards’ game that Elzy didn’t feel comfortable boasting about. From the mouth of her head coach, it sounded as if Edwards was an All-SEC caliber player lurking in the shadows. But preseason talk is just preseason talk; those words are justified on the court. And right away, the Big Blue Nation didn’t witness anything spectacular.
Edwards’ UK debut against Murray State in the team’s season-opener was the first time she had taken the floor since Feb. 2019, roughly 21 months ago. But two quick fouls within the first 60 seconds forced her to the bench and out of any comfortable rhythm. Edwards finished her first career game in a Kentucky uniform with just two points and one rebound in six minutes.
Up until this point, the only individuals who knew just how good Edwards actually was and how far she’d come in her development since that terrible injury were the people within the UK program. If you go back and watch film on Edwards during her time at Utah–where she averaged an impressive 11.6 points and 6.7 rebounds per outing–you would think you are watching a completely different player than the one who dominated in all facets on Sunday night against the Belmont Bruins.
There was no foul trouble for Edwards in the early stages of Kentucky’s 70-50 win over Belmont this past Sunday. The versatile, floor-stretching, rim-running, quick-handed forward was the most talented player suited up on the court and she put her foot on the gas from the second quarter on.
Edwards finished the win over Belmont with an outstanding stat line consisting of 27 points (career-high), 15 rebounds (tied her career-high), one assist, and three steals while shooting 11-19 from the floor and 2-4 from deep, playing in just 29 minutes. Her points came in all different forms: post hooks, 3-pointers, attacking the rim, foul shots, pushing in transition, hitting the offensive glass. You name it, Edwards pulled it off.
Everyone knew Dre’Una Edwards was good–Freshman of the Year award aside–but there weren’t many outside of the program, if any, that thought she was this good. Her performance on Sunday was the first time since Evelyn Akhator back in Feb. 2017 that a Wildcat posted at least 27 points and 15 rebounds.
“We’ve been seeing this from Dre,” Coach Elzy said after the win over Belmont. “We knew how talented she is. She was the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year for a reason. We were just so excited that you all got to see her play this well. She is very smart, has a high basketball IQ, extremely versatile, as you all saw tonight, and she will cause a problem to the opposing team.”
Edwards is the perfect zone-penetrator, as evidenced multiple times throughout the short clips above. Kentucky struggled with the zone defense that Belmont deployed during most of the first quarter. Edwards only had three points and two rebounds after seven first period minutes, but quickly found her spots as the game went along. Her chemistry working alongside veterans such as Robyn Benton and Blair Green made it seem as though they had been playing together for years now.
Once Edwards began to work herself into the middle of the zone, the Kentucky offense opened up completely. Belmont, knowing that point guard Chasity Patterson was coming off a 30-point season-opening performance, made it a point to force the ball out of her hands through high traps and constant pressure. And to Patterson’s credit, she did an excellent job of dealing with the stress, finding her teammates within the flow of the offense and creating 2-on-1/3-on-2 opportunities for Edwards in the middle of the Belmont zone. Edwards’ high-basketball IQ that Coach Elzy had mentioned prior was shining through vividly as she caught the ball at the nail, turned, and drove for the basket.
As Edwards put it succinctly: she’s a self-claimed “Dawg” and believes that she should be putting up these types of numbers on a game-by-game basis. She leaves all of her effort on the court, something that has been instilled in her since she was growing up around three older brothers. It’s not often you see a 6-foot-2 forward grab a defensive rebound, sprint the floor with guard-like handles, and finish at the rim by themselves. It takes a ton of self-confidence to execute and even more hard-earned skills.
“If I grabbed a board, they [her brothers] were always telling me to go and don’t stop until someone stops you,” Edwards said after the Belmont win. “So I just have that mentality all the time.”
That mentality translates to the win column, as well, which is why she came to Kentucky where she could team up with National Player of the Year candidate Rhyne Howard, who will make her season debut on Thursday after serving a two-game suspension. Those two, including Chasity Patterson, have formulated an early-season “Big 3” that any program needs if they want to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. The scariest part is we haven’t even see what Howard can do playing alongside these two budding stars. The next step is figuring out how all three of them can complement each other to make sure this extraordinary group of talent is being utilized to its maximum ability.
Edwards is finally feeling 100 percent healthy after the ACL tear and an undisclosed shoulder injury during her time at Utah that she said stunted her ability to show off her outside shot. Playing in a Kentucky system that encourages pushing the break and keeping the pace high, Edwards has found a perfect fit in Lexington.