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    Friday, March 01, 2024

    UConn’s Muhl set to take on sister Hana, Ball State at her home away from home

    UConn's Nika Muhl drives the ball against North Carolina State during a game Nov. 12 in Raleigh, N.C. Muhl and the 17th-ranked Huskies will take on Hana Muhl, Nika’s younger sister, and the Ball State women’s basketball team at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Gampel Pavilion. (Karl B. DeBlaker/AP Photo)
    UConn guard Nika Muhl, middle, cuts between Dayton guards Anyssa Jones, left, and Ivy Wolf in the second half of a game Nov. 8 in Hartford. (Jessica Hill/AP Photo)

    Storrs — The trash talk on the court for this game will be in Croatian.

    UConn senior guard Nika Muhl, a native of Zagreb, Croatia, where the Huskies played this summer as part of a European tour, will face off against her sister Hana on Wednesday as UConn meets Ball State at Gampel Pavilion (7 p.m., SNY). Hana is a sophomore guard for Ball State.

    The Muhls’ parents, Roberto and Darko, will make the trip to the United States to see the first-ever matchup between their daughters.

    “I’m extremely excited. I feel like all this excitement has been building up,” Nika Muhl said. “I have my parents coming and then I have my cousin (Sara Deidda) coming; she’s a freshman (basketball player) at Wofford and she’s going to fly out here for the game.

    “I can’t wait. There’s none of that (reticence in facing her only sibling). I can’t wait. I’m sure she wants to win as much as I want to win. It’s gonna be so hard to watch for my parents. Aside from all of that, winning and losing, it’s going to be such a great opportunity to just experience this together for the first time ever.”

    No. 17 UConn (4-3) has been enduring a tumultuous season thus far, losing junior sharpshooter Azzi Fudd to a torn ACL after just two games and struggling to smooth out its offense while experiencing a glut of serious injuries for the third straight season.

    The Huskies are coming off an 80-68 loss Sunday at then No. 10-Texas, which moved up to fifth in the Associated Press Top 25 poll while UConn fell from 11th to 17th. Ball State is 6-1 after a 71-64 win Sunday vs. Saint Louis.

    Last season, UConn coach Geno Auriemma hailed Muhl’s charisma and leadership in her time since arriving in Storrs.

    “Her confidence level is ‘I can do anything on that basketball court,’” Auriemma said. “And the bigger the game, the bigger the moment, the more pressure, doesn’t faze her one bit. So if you have a leader like that on your team, that does rub off on the rest of the players.

    “You know, she’s running out of the tunnel and you’re following her. That’s a pretty good person to follow into what’s coming next.”

    Muhl jokes that Hana is measurably more easygoing, more calm, more steady than she is, a sister act that sometimes clashed growing up in Zagreb. You name it, they could fight about it, Muhl said late last week, speaking of the relationship with her little sister.

    “We are two polar opposites,” Muhl said. “I mean, literally, if you can make a completely different, opposite person out of me, it’s going to be her. But we’re also so similar at the same time it’s unbelievable. But yeah, we were definitely cats and dogs when we were young.”

    That’s changed since Nika left for the U.S. The distance between them made them closer. The sisters now have tattoos behind their left ears bearing each other’s initials.

    While UConn traveled to Croatia this summer, a true homecoming game for Muhl, Hana wasn’t there at the time. Nika considers this somewhat of a homecoming game, with an opportunity to show her family what the atmosphere is like at Gampel Pavilion, the arena she has called home for four years now.

    Auriemma said Muhl tended to some of the particulars of the matchup against Ball State, insisting it be at Gampel.

    Nika speaks to Hana every day on FaceTime, she said.

    “I feel like that distance made us so much closer, which is like a weird thing to say,” Nika Muhl said. “I feel like that would have distanced us, but it definitely brought us so much closer and I’m so excited to see her.”

    Nika is the two-time defending Big East Conference Defensive Player of the Year and last year finished with 284 assists, passing UConn great Sue Bird (231) for the most in a single season in program history.

    A preseason All-Big East pick, Nika is averaging 7.3 points, 3.7 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game, as the Huskies’ three losses have come to three of the top five teams in the nation in No. 2 UCLA, No. 3 NC State and No. 5 Texas.

    Hana is averaging 4.0 points in 12.4 minutes per game for Ball State.

    Nika said they recently had a talk where Hana admitted she looked up to her sister.

    “It’s interesting, a couple of days ago she actually told me how proud she is of me and how, like, for all these years she’s been looking up to me and, you know, trying to copy everything I do,” Muhl said.

    “It just means so much to me that first, she’s finally able to admit it, but also, you know, I feel like being a big sister is such a blessing and it’s a huge responsibility and it’s not just being a big sister, it’s also being a best friend to her. I’m just so happy that I can call her my little sister.

    “It’s just going to be such a full-circle moment for me.”

    Ball State, which finished 26-9 last season with a WNIT appearance, is led by 5-foot-9 guard Maddie Bischoff with 13.0 points per game and 5-8 point guard Ally Becki with 11.9 points, 4.1 rebounds and 5.6 assists.

    v.fulkerson@theday.com

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