UConn is a 'different basketball team' with Nika Muhl, whose status remains uncertain

SAN ANTONIO — UConn coach Geno Auriemma still isn’t sure if freshman guard Nika Muhl will be back on the floor in time for the Final Four.

Auriemma, speaking with reporters Wednesday via Zoom, revealed that Muhl is dealing with a high right ankle sprain.

Muhl did some light jogging during Wednesday’s practice, her first time back on the floor since suffering the injury in a first-round victory over 16th-seeded High Point on March 21.

The No. 1 Huskies play third-seeded Arizona on Friday (9:30 p.m., ESPN) at the Alamodome.

“She gave it a shot,” Auriemma said. “What that means is really nothing because we need to see how she wakes up tonight, wakes up tomorrow, see how she feels. But the fact that she could get out on the floor for just a little bit today, it’s a real positive sign.”

The 5-foot-10 Muhl, who has been wearing a walking boot, is averaging 5.0 points, 2.7 assists and 2.4 rebounds across 22 games, 15 starts.

The Huskies (28-1) have gotten by in her absence, advancing to their 13th consecutive Final Four behind the brilliance AP Player of the Year Paige Bueckers and timely contributions from a host of others, including freshman forward Aaliyah Edwards, who has started the last three games in Muhl’s place. But to be a complete team, Auriemma knows they’ll need a strong defender like Muhl back in the lineup.

“If we had Nika 100%, we’re a different basketball team, a much different basketball team,” Auriemma said. “You don’t replace a defensive-minded guard like that.”

They certainly could use her to help guard Arizona senior Aari McDonald, whom Auriemma called the “most dominant” guard UConn has played this season. McDonald, a second team AP All-American, is averaging 20.3 points and shooting 41.4%.

“Not that she would be able to guard Aari McDonald, don’t get me wrong,” Auriemma said, “but that would give us another defender to switch up and let Aari see a different look. And we don’t have that if Nika doesn’t play or if she’s not playing at 100%.”

UConn played only six players in Monday’s Elite Eight win over No. 2 Baylor, with three — Bueckers and juniors Evina Westbrook and Christyn Williams — on the court the entire 40 minutes. Sophomore Aubrey Griffin was the lone Husky off the bench, scoring two points, grabbing three rebounds and drawing a pair of key charges in 25 minutes.

“It gives us an opportunity if we had Nika,” Auriemma said, “to give E a breather so she doesn’t have to play 40 minutes like she did the other night, to give Christyn a breather or give Paige a breather. … Not having Nika changes a lot of things, changes a lot of things for us.

“I think Anna (Makurat) and Aubrey have helped tremendously. Those two charges that Aubrey took in the Baylor game were huge. So we’re going to get contributions from those two, for sure. But it won’t be the same kind of contributions that Nika would make.”

dbonjour@ctpost.com; @DougBonjour