Seattle rookie Nika Mühl made her long awaited WNBA debut in last night’s 85-83 win over Indiana after missing the first four games of the season due to visa issues. 

A Croatian national, Mühl had been waiting on P-1 visa approval in order to work legally in the US. While the paperwork came through Friday, she had to travel to Canada in order to get her status changed.

The former UConn star poked fun at the delay ahead of the game, walking into Climate Pledge Arena wearing a t-shirt displaying her approved visa.

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Mühl checked into the game on Monday in the third period to a standing ovation, immediately diving over the baseline to save a loose ball. She spent her first few minutes of the game the same way she completed her career at UConn: guarding Caitlin Clark

Mühl, who had two rebounds in two and a half minutes, held Clark to five points, a rebound, and a turnover when the two were matched up. 

"I threw her in the fire," Storm coach Noelle Quinn said with a smile after the game. "It’s tough to come into the game at that rate and think that you’re going to stop the player, but I like… her physicality, her poise, her confidence. She took an open shot and I thought that was a great look for her. We’ll continue to put her in the mix in practice, and she’ll have opportunities to show what she can do on the defensive end to start."

An instant fan favorite, the UConn star donned the No. 1 jersey — in part because her usual No. 10 was retired by Seattle after Sue Bird, who wore it for her entire WNBA career, retired last year. Mühl's new number was chosen by none other than Bird herself. 

"I actually FaceTimed Sue and asked her what number I should wear. She took a day to think about it and came back to me with an answer of No. 1," Muhl said in a WNBA video posted to social media. "When I asked her why No. 1, she basically said 'This is a new beginning, but you’re not starting from scratch.' I loved that whole analogy and story, so Sue actually picked it and I love it."

No. 2 UConn basketball was upset by an unranked NC State team on Saturday evening, 92-81. The last time the Wolfpack beat the Huskies came in the 1998 Elite Eight.

NC State junior Saniya Rivers stood out as the player of the match, draining 33 points and grabbing 11 rebounds for her squad. Rivers also drew fouls throughout the game, and she shot 10-14 from the free-throw line.

UConn head coach Gino Auriemma told his NC State counterpart Wes Moore that the Wolfpack team is “10 times better than last year,” as CT Insider’s Maggie Vanoni reported after the game.

“Everything they did was better than ours. … They were just on top of their game more than I remember. We got our asses beat plain and simple,” Auriemma said.

The Huskies made a palpable offensive effort, with two of their starters bagging over 20 points — Paige Bueckers dropped 27, while Aaliyah Edwards contributed 21. Bueckers was playing in her second game since her return from an ACL injury.

However, UConn struggled on the defensive end of the court. Four out of five Husky starters were in foul trouble by the end of the game, racking up at least four fouls, with Nika Mühl fouling out.

“We weren’t mature enough to handle it,” Auriemma said of his team.

UConn grabbed 11 fewer rebounds than NC State, with 29 to the Wolfpack’s 41. NC State cashed in on 12 points off rebounds and 12 second-chance points.

“We’ve got a sh— attitude towards rebounding … and that’s got to change,” Auriemma said.

With UConn’s loss to NC State and No. 1 LSU’s season-opening loss to Colorado, the top two teams in the preseason AP Top 25 have lost before the second AP poll for the first time in at least 25 years, according to ESPN.

UConn women’s basketball limped to the end of the regular season, beset by injuries and inconsistent play. Even coach Geno Auriemma doubted his team’s postseason chances.

Then the calendar flipped to March.

The No. 7 Huskies (29-5) found their footing in the Big East Tournament, building to a 67-56 win against Villanova in Monday’s championship game. With the victory, they claimed their 10th straight conference tournament title (third in the Big East) and 28th overall.

“We definitely have a different edge to us when March comes, when the games really, really, really matter,” junior guard Nika Mühl said. “… We’re just going to continue to keep that up because now every game matters.”

UConn ended the regular season with three losses in its last eight games. And the five wins it eked out were all decided by 10 points or fewer. The team had dealt with a number injuries, and particularly the absence of star sophomore Azzi Fudd, but Auriemma also called out the “selfishness” he had seen down the stretch.

Rather than become mired in their struggles, though, the Huskies saw in March and in the Big East Tournament a chance to turn the page.

“It almost felt like a chapter had been closed,” Auriemma said after the title win. “I can sit back now and really let everything, like, wash over you that you’ve been holding in. So many things have happened on and off the court this past season — personally, team-wise, everything — that to get to this point, you want to just close that book and now start a brand-new one starting next Sunday.

“That book ended the right way. It had a lot of acts and a lot of tragedies and a lot of ups and downs, a lot of stuff, but the book ended the right way. And now it’s time for a new one.”

The return of Azzi Fudd right in time for the postseason helped. She scored 11 points off the bench against Villanova. So did the dominance of junior forward Aaliyah Edwards, who was named the Most Outstanding Player in the tournament after posting her third-straight double-double (19 points, 15 rebounds).

“I think the whole season she’s been carrying us,” senior forward Dorka Juhász said of Edwards. “And I just remember, even last year, when the tournament came, a different Aaliyah came out to play.”

With the Big East title, the Huskies gathered momentum ahead of the NCAA Tournament, which tips off next week.

UConn women’s basketball legend Sue Bird already looms large in Huskies history. Still, junior guard Nika Mühl gained a deeper admiration for Bird as she broke her single-season assists record.

With her seven assists in Monday’s 60-51 win against Xavier, Mühl has 236 assists and counting this season for No. 9 UConn (26-5). She surpassed Bird’s program record of 231, set in the 2001-02 season.

“Honestly, like, this is tough to do and I respect her even more for what she did,” Mühl said. “It means a lot. … I never understood how tough it is.”

While Mühl did not hit double-digits in assists Monday, she has had 10 or more assists in a program-record nine games this season. She is averaging 7.9 assists per game.

Mühl broke Bird’s record in the regular-season finale for her team, but she still has the Big East and the NCAA tournament to add to her total. Still, even as she inked her name in the Huskies’ history books, Mühl deflected praise for her accomplishment.

“I really like this group of people, my teammates, and I feel like it means even more because it’s kind of like a team award,” she said. “You know, assists, you have to pass but somebody has to make the basket. So, I feel like it’s kind of like a team award, which gives it so much more importance when I think about it.”

With Paige Bueckers out for the season with an ACL tear, Mühl has taken on a larger role in the UConn offense as the starting point guard.

“I think she’s had an incredible year,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “That’s kind of indicative of who our team is, you know, Nika’s our identity. She’s the one that drives us.”

UConn entered Thursday’s contest against Princeton with eight players. By the time the whistle blew on its 69-64 victory, the Huskies were down to seven.

Point guard Nika Muhl lined up to take a charge in the third quarter, but as she fell backward, she took a knee to the head. She rolled onto her stomach in pain as the UConn staff came onto the court to check on the junior.

As staff tended to Muhl, the UConn bench looked on, with Azzi Fudd, Paige Bueckers, Ice Brady and Dorka Juhasz all dressed in gray sweatsuits, unable to play due to their own injuries.

Fudd suffered a knee injury Sunday in UConn’s 74-60 loss to Notre Dame and will be out for three to six weeks. Bueckers (ACL) and Brady (patella dislocation) are out for the season, though Juhasz is expected back any game now as she recovers from a broken thumb.

The Huskies led by double-digits for much of the game but struggled after Muhl’s injury, which coach Geno Auriemma said may have taken a mental toll on his squad. Still, the Huskies managed to come away with a victory despite committing 27 turnovers – a season-high for the team.

“I don’t know that we handled it great,” Auriemma told reporters after the game.  “I don’t know that we are going to be proud of obviously what we see on film. I think when Nika went down it was really a lot on some of the other guys, but at the end we had to make a couple plays, we gotta make a couple of shots, we gotta make a couple of free throws and we managed to do what needed to be done at that particular time to win a game.”

Aubrey Griffin led the Huskies to victory, with 29 points and 10 rebounds.

Lou Lopez-Senechal was the second-leading scorer with 19 points despite sitting out the final 4:19 of the contest due to an apparent foot injury. Lopez-Senechal has been nursing a foot strain, which she aggravated Thursday, per Auriemma — but the coach said the injury is not serious.

With the diminished roster, Caroline Ducharme and Amari DeBerry saw increased minutes. Ducharme, who has battled neck stiffness throughout the season, was averaging 18.7 minutes before playing 29 against Princeton. DeBerry played 26 minutes, an increase on her previous high of 13.

Nika Muhl has had an improved start to the season, averaging double-digit assists and nearly double the amount of steals as last year.

The improvement stems from head coach Geno Auriemma sitting Muhl down and telling her she needed to get better, particularly after Paige Bueckers went down with an ACL injury in the offseason.

“I told her I was gonna bench her ass,” Auriemma told Connecticut Insider. “… We went to breakfast one morning and I just said, ‘Here’s what’s going to happen. You stay the way you are right now; I don’t care if we went down to one guard, you’re not gonna play. If you change the things that I know you can change and we need to change, then you’re gonna have a phenomenal year. So, what’s it going to be?’”

The guard leads the country in assists per game with 11.0 – the only player to average 10 or more. During UConn’s third game this season, she set the team’s single-game assist record with 15.

The 2022 Big East Defensive Player of the Year, Muhl has grown into a player that Auriemma says he wouldn’t “trade for anybody.” She’s making better decisions, he says, and is more comfortable on the court.

“Nika’s made a lot of progress,” Auriemma told the media after UConn’s win over Texas on Nov. 14. “She’s matured a lot. She’s grown up a lot. She’s taking things to heart even more so than she did when she already did. She’s taking more responsibility for everything which is great.”

To start the year she’s helped fill the hole that Bueckers has left with her injury, and is making a difference as UConn has taken down some of the top teams in the country and climbed to a No. 3 ranking.

“I feel like it’s a been a process, a long process, and it still is a process,” Mühl said. “There’s ups and downs, this and that, good and bad days, but I’ve gotten better. I’m learning from my mistakes which has been the biggest change for me. And just my teammates having my back, the coaching staff having my back, watching a lot of film, a lot of preparation goes into all this, so there’s still a long way to go but I’m happy with where I’m at.”