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'What she brings is unique': UConn hoping Nika Mühl can transform team once again
The sophomore has an impact that can’t be quantified.
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UConn hoping Nika Mühl can transform team once again
On Sunday, Nika Mühl returned to the court for the first time in three games after missing time with a foot injury. She checked into the game with just over three minutes left in the first quarter and on her second defensive possession, the sophomore ran through a screening Bluejays player, got called for a foul and promptly threw her hands up and gave a shocked look to the official.
It took all of 34 seconds for Mühl to show everyone that she was back.
“She just has to understand that she’s not right all the time and that the refs are allowed to call fouls once in a while,” Geno Auriemma lamented postgame. “It’s not always their fault when you foul.”
Even though fouls remain a persistent problem for Mühl — she had four in just 16 minutes of action against Creighton — the coach is willing to live with them. Because Mühl not only gives UConn a true point guard — something it lacked over the last few weeks with both her and Paige Bueckers out — she also has an unquantifiable impact when she’s in the lineup.
“It’s a 180 degree difference when she’s on the floor,” Auriemma said after UConn’s win over Butler. “She’s going to bring tremendous energy, defensive intensity. She’s going to push the ball up the floor harder.”
Against Creighton, Mühl mostly used her limited action to shake off the rust from being sidelined for five weeks. She went just 1-4 from the field — including 0-3 from three — and committed the four fouls. However, Mühl showed flashes of her ability by assisting on nearly a third of UConn’s baskets while she was on the floor.
For Auriemma, it didn’t matter that Mühl had a relatively quiet day, though. After Sunday’s game, he mentioned that the sophomore practiced better than she played. That must’ve continued in the lead-up to the Huskies’ trip out to Butler because Mühl got the start over redshirt senior Evina Westbrook.
With Mühl on a minutes restriction, Auriemma wanted her to impact the game from the opening tip.
“If she’s going to be limited to some minutes for some time, why sit her on the bench and then give her spotty minutes? Why not start her and let’s see what we got that day?” he said.
The trick worked. On Wednesday, UConn got a vintage performance from Mühl. She didn’t even attempt a shot but tied a team-high with five assists despite playing just 17 minutes.
Because of that, it’s no surprise the Huskies’ best and most cohesive offensive performance was with Mühl in the starting lineup, even if it came against a hapless 1-11 Bulldogs team that were in their first game back from a COVID-19 pause.
“The game was played the way we wanted to play, regardless of who the opponent was,” Auriemma said. “That’s the way we used to play basketball here at Connecticut and that hasn’t happened in a while.”
A year ago, UConn turned the season around after its 11th game — a loss at Arkansas. Two games later, Mühl entered the starting lineup for good and stayed there until she suffered an ankle injury in the NCAA Tournament opener.
The Huskies’ win over Butler was their 11th game of this season and Mühl appears to be a fixture in the starting lineup once again. Auriemma plans on seeing whether the sophomore point guard can have the same effect on the team’s fortunes.
“When we inserted her into the starting lineup last year, that’s when the team changed and there’s a reason for that,” he said. “What she brings is unique and she’s the one player on our team that has it. I’m determined to take more advantage of it as the season goes on.”
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