There's a Tim Hortons on the University at Buffalo campus, and the Canadians on the Bulls women's basketball team like to tease their American teammates when they see them sipping a cup of Tim's.
"We're like 'Y'all don't know nothing about the real Tim Hortons. Tim Hortons in Canada is way better than Tim Hortons in America,'" laughed Ayoleka Sodade, a senior guard from Windsor, Ont. "We make jokes like that all the time."
Buffalo, which tips off March Madness on Friday against Rutgers, has a decidedly Canadian look with five women from north of the border: Sodade, sophomore Hanna Hall of Hamilton and freshmen Adebola Adeyeye of Brampton, Ont., Oceane Kounkou of Gatineau, Que., and Keowa Walters of Toronto.
Hall is the Bulls' starting point guard, a five-foot-three dynamo who backed up senior Stephanie Reid, one of the top guards to ever wear Bulls blue, last season.
"Because I was really playing against her all (last) year, I knew I was getting a lot better, just getting locked in and trusting the process and putting in a lot of work," Hall said after Wednesday's practice in Storrs, Conn. "By doing that, I was really ready this year.
"And I started to find my leadership voice, and we really needed that because we had lost five seniors. Even though I was a sophomore, I wanted to be that leader and go-to voice."
The five Buffalo players are among 21 Canadian women playing in March Madness.
With a third of their roster coming from Canada, Canadian flags dotted Buffalo's Alumni Arena during the season, particularly on Dec. 21 when Buffalo hosted Stanford in what was virtually a homecoming game for Canadians on the Cardinal Alyssa Jerome and Mikaela Brewer.
"There definitely is (a Canadian vibe)," said Sodade. "It feels like it's family. It definitely brings a sense of being home. The vibe is just easy, it flows."
Added Adeyeye: "Being so close (to the Canadian border), people can just come and support and show love and even have a new perspective about women's basketball."
Canadian high school and provincial coaches are regular visitors to the team's open practices.
"Our coaches are unbelievable, we have open practices where (visiting coaches) can come up and ask questions, they'll watch practices and learn from them, stuff like that. It's really cool," Hall said.
Buffalo captured the Mid-American Conference title this season and is making its third appearance in the NCAA tournament in four years after going 23-9 on the campaign. The Bulls are seeded 10th in their region, while Rutgers is seventh.
While Hall, who played for Canada at both the U17 world championship in 2016 and the U19 FIBA World Cup in 2017, has only been to March Madness in a backup role, she soaked up last year's experience that saw Buffalo make the Sweet 16 for the first time in program history.
"I was just a freshman, but I was really locked in the whole year, trying to be a voice on the bench because I knew that this year I would have an opportunity to step up," Hall said. "I really have experience from last year's tournament to know what I have to do this year. And our team is playing great right now, we're really playing together and that's the best we can be."
As a senior, Sodade, whose brother Babayele played for Major League Soccer's Seattle Sounders, has talked to the team's rookies about what to expect on the national stage.
"We definitely tell them that we deserve to be here, and that we shouldn't change up anything that we've been doing from the beginning of the season until now, stay true to who we are, stay true to Buffalo basketball and everything's fine," she said. "Regardless of the situation they're going to be nervous because they're freshmen, but we just tell them this is your first time but we got your back, so just calm the nerves."
Adeyeye, a 6-2 forward, earned a starting role early in her freshman season, and has started in all but three of the team's last 20 games.
"Honestly (starting) came as a shock to me, but I feel like it's because of the energy I bring to the team and how it helps the rest of the team and how it helps the starters get into their style of play," she said. "I just thank my coaches for trusting me."
Adeyeye said she's expecting a fast and physical game when the national spotlight shines on them Friday.
"My teammates have been telling me that it's also about relaxing and playing your game and not letting the scene rush you, but just playing Buffalo basketball and just enjoy every moment of it, because it could be our last game," she said. "We have the choice to keep on going, it just depends on what we do. We basically have our destinies in our hands."
The sixth-seeded Bulls men's team also has been turning heads this season. They open their NCAA tournament on Friday versus the winner of Wednesday night's play-in game between St. John's and Arizona State. Buffalo is making its fourth tournament appearance in five years and coming off a 31-3 season in which it set a MAC record for single-season victories.
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press