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    Tuesday, March 05, 2024

    No. 17 UConn women get off to a scorching start, top Ball State 90-63

    UConn's Aaliyah Edwards looks to pass the ball against North Carolina State during the second half of a game Nov. 12 in Raleigh, N.C. Edwards had 18 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, three steals and two blocked shots Wednesday in the No. 17 Huskies’ 90-63 victory over Ball State at Gampel Pavilion. (Karl B. DeBlaker/AP Photo)

    Storrs — UConn solved the ongoing problem of its missing pieces on offense Wednesday, at least for a quarter.

    Using its sixth different starting lineup of the season and one that included a pair of energetic freshmen in KK Arnold and Ashlynn Shade, the 17th-ranked Huskies scored 37 points in the first quarter on the way to a 90-63 victory over Ball State.

    “We’ve gotta just keep working on finding those combinations that work the best,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “Every day at staff meetings it’s me ranting and raving and it’s those guys (assistant coaches) going, ‘Why don’t we try this?’ ‘No. I hate that.’ ‘Why don’t we try this?’ ‘No. I hate that, too.’

    “’Do you like anything?’ ‘No. I do not. I don’t like anything about what we’re talking about.’ But we eventually settle on something.”

    Shade, the former McDonald’s All-American from Noblesville, Indiana — who eclipsed the 2,000-point mark in her high school career — drilled a 3-point field goal just 13 seconds into the game before 9,273 fans at Gampel Pavilion who came to celebrate a reunion of UConn senior guard Nika Muhl and her sister Hana, a sophomore guard for Ball State.

    The Muhls’ parents, Roberta and Darko, also attended the game, all the way from their home in Zagreb, Croatia, with their daughters facing off for the first time.

    Aaliyah Edwards finished with 18 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, three steals and two blocked shots for UConn (5-3), Shade had 17 points (including three 3-pointers), Paige Bueckers had 15, Aubrey Griffin 14 and freshman Qadence Samuels 11.

    Madelyn Bischoff had 12 points to lead Ball State (6-2), which finished 26-9 last season with a WNIT bid. Hana Muhl had nine points and two assists for the Cardinals, outscoring Nika, who finished with four points, three rebounds, three steals and a pair of assists.

    UConn, which has had to adjust to losing junior Azzi Fudd for the season due to a knee injury and also to playing without junior guard Caroline Ducharme, out with neck spasms, was coming off an 82-60 loss to then-No. 10 Texas on Sunday.

    The Huskies’ three losses have all come to teams now ranked in the top five in No. 2 UCLA, No. 3 NC State and No. 5 Texas.

    “It felt great. It’s a bounceback game,” said UConn’s Edwards, who said that a common thread in the Huskies’ losses so far has been not starting out well. “To come out here and to have that type of energy and that type of flow was good. We’ve got some tougher matchups starting next game, so it’s more about building on it.”

    “We’ll just keep tinkering, see what we can come up with,” Auriemma said. “There was a lot of good things that happened in that first quarter. I thought we gave ourselves a lot of chances to do what we talked about doing. We wanted to make sure we got a lot of 3s up, that we got to the basket a lot, so we accomplished the things that we set out to do. It’s just going to take some more work to fine tune it.”

    UConn shot 76.5% in the first quarter (13-for-17, 4-for-6 from behind the arc) to lead 37-21 and finished the second quarter with an 11-0 run to hold a 52-30 advantage at the half.

    Griffin had 12 points in the first half, going 6-for-7 from the foul line and Edwards added nine points and six rebounds.

    Hana Muhl scored Ball State’s final points of the second quarter on a pull-up jump shot with 5:58 remaining to pull the Cardinals within 41-30.

    Following that, however, UConn’s Arnold was fouled on a fast break, making both free throws, and Bueckers scored assisted by Ice Brady. Griffin hit two free throws, Brady hit a short jump shot from the right baseline and Griffin grabbed a steal and made the layup for a 51-30 lead.

    Griffin ended the run by making one of two free throws at the 1:03 mark.

    Muhl, meanwhile, said it was tough to describe what the matchup against her sister meant to her. Her parents will remain in Connecticut for Sunday’s game against No. 24 North Carolina.

    “I mean, this moment was so special, you know, for so many reasons,” Muhl said. “Just seeing my family out there in the stands and how emotional they were. And people brought Croatian flags; that was so dope.

    “And then, you know, the highlight, playing my sister. That was crazy. It was like a dream for me, honestly.”

    UConn plays at 5 p.m. Sunday vs. North Carolina in the Basketball Hall of Fame Women’s Showcase at Mohegan Sun Arena. Also facing off in that tournament are No. 2 UCLA and No. 20 Florida State at noon and No. 1 South Carolina and No. 11 Utah at 2:30 p.m.

    Ball State marked UConn’s last game at Gampel Pavilion until Jan. 20 against DePaul.

    v.fulkerson@theday.com

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