Muhl emerges as the voice of No. 9 UConn women as Huskies face St. John's
A lot of times, UConn sophomore Nika Muhl, in her play on the floor, in her banter with teammates or coach Geno Auriemma, will go for the mic drop, the best play, the wittiest line.
Following Friday night's win over Seton Hall at Gampel Pavilion, Muhl closed the press conference, recapping the Huskies' difficulties through injuries, COVID-19 protocols, etc., by making everyone smile, including senior teammate and generally stoic Olivia Nelson-Ododa.
"This is a very weird place we are at right now with people out, everything going on. We're going through hell, literally, but we're going to get through it," Muhl said.
Any other questions for the players?
Nope. That about covered it.
And Muhl covered that same ground in the 71-38 win over Seton Hall, which leads into ninth-ranked UConn's Big East Conference matchup Sunday at St. John's (1 p.m., SNY). Muhl had 11 points, seven rebounds, four steals, three assists and no turnovers against Seton Hall.
It came one game removed from a 72-59 loss Monday at Oregon, one in which Auriemma characterized the Huskies' guard play as "bad" in multiple references — perhaps unfair in that UConn guards Paige Bueckers (left tibial plateau fracture), Azzi Fudd (right foot) and Christyn Williams (COVID-19 protocols) are all currently out of the lineup leaving just Muhl, Evina Westbrook and freshman Caroline Ducharme in the backcourt. Muhl is returning from a right foot injury herself and played 40 minutes against Oregon.
Her response against Seton Hall drew high praise from Auriemma, who called Muhl "the voice of our team."
"That's one of the things that we've tried to identify. Who can that person be? And there hasn't been a consistent one," Auriemma said. "When Nika was out all that time, we lose a voice and we lose a voice that everyone on the team listens to.
"When she's on the floor, she's the voice of our team. Other people think they are but they're not. She is. Generally, she knows what she's talking about and she plays harder than everybody else, so what are you going to say? When you respect someone's effort and someone's passion for the game that wants to get it right, if they say something, you're going to listen.
"I just think Nika's a guard that likes to run the show. She's not afraid. That's what's best about her."
Muhl finished with three 3-point field goals. She's also known as UConn's best communicator on defense and the Huskies limited Seton Hall to 26.4% shooting and a season-low point total.
Westbrook said Muhl brings a different type of passion to the team. Nelson-Ododa called her the Huskies' floor general. Muhl smiled.
"It just kinda came to me honestly," said said. "As Liv said, I try to communicate. Sometimes I'll be having a bad day and my teammates come and pick me up; I always try to be that for them. ... For myself personally after that Oregon game, I had a couple days where I was in a pretty bad mental state. I couldn't pick it up. My teammates did their best job, my coaches, all the staff did their best job to get me out of it. This was the result today."
Auriemma, meanwhile, stands by his statement that the guard play was bad Monday, with the Huskies (10-4, 5-0) turning the ball over 19 times in the loss.
"If I'm going to tell you how good we are then I got to tell you how bad we are when we're bad, right?" he said. "Our guard play was bad Monday ... our guard play was not up to the standards that we expect at Connecticut. We did a lot of that this week. This week we tried to impress upon them how they are their own worst enemies a lot of times. We made good decisions (Friday). Our guard play was really good (Friday)."
Against St. John's (5-11, 1-5), the Huskies face a team that likes to push the ball up the floor with the Red Storm averaging 74.1 points per game. St. John's has lost seven straight, most recently falling to Seton Hall 84-79 Wednesday. The Red Storm are led by 6-foot junior guard Leilani Correa with 20.4 points per game.
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