UConn women's basketball could have seven players available Sunday vs. Maryland. How the lineup may look

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There’s a chance the UConn women’s basketball team will have just seven players available when it faces Maryland on Sunday.

And really, only five of those players are at full strength.

The No. 6 Huskies could likely be without point guard Nika Mühl when it visits the No. 20 Terps. Mühl, who is starting at point guard in place of Paige Bueckers (out for the year with an ACL injury) this season, suffered an apparent head injury three minutes into the third quarter of UConn’s win over Princeton.

If she is out, that will mark the sixth of UConn’s 12 players to miss at least one game or more due to injury this season. It will also be just the second time within the past season-and-a-half that the team only had seven available players for a single game (UConn only had seven available on Jan. 9, 2022, in a 63-55 win over Creighton).

"We can't change the situation we’re in. It is what it is," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said after Thursday’s game.

UConn had no update on Mühl's status Friday morning and a spokesperson said there was no timeline for updates.

Mühl was hit by the shoulder of a Princeton player under the basket and then got hit again in the back of the head by teammate Aaliyah Edwards’ knee as she fell to the ground. Mühl lay motionless on the court for at least a minute before the team’s trainer and coaches came out to help.

She needed help to sit up and stand before being helped off the court and into the locker room. While Mühl was able to walk through the tunnel to the locker room on her own power, she did not return to the bench for the remainder of the game.

"She’s in the locker room and she says she feels fine," Auriemma said after the game. "So, we’ll see. We’ll know more tomorrow and hopefully, it’s nothing."

If Mühl (who leads the nation with 9.8 assists per game) is out, she will join Bueckers, freshman Ice Brady (out for the year with a patella dislocation), Azzi Fudd (out for three to six weeks with a knee injury) and Dorka Juhász (broken thumb) on the bench.

Juhász’s original diagnosis said she’d miss three games after breaking her thumb on Nov. 14 against Texas. Thursday’s game marked her sixth straight sitting out. While the graduate forward has rejoined practices, Auriemma didn’t have a clear answer on whether or not she’d be ready to go by Sunday.

"When someone gets an injury there’s got to be a mental part to it that has to be addressed," Auriemma said. "Meaning if someone tells you, 'Hey, it's OK, you can probably go,' mentally you have to be ready to go. And if you're not, it’s not gonna work. And my conversation with Dorka, is she's not there yet."

As for the players UConn will have available, not all are fully healthy.

Lou Lopez Sénéchal has been dealing with foot pain over the last couple weeks and tweaked it during Thursday’s game. She sat out the last four minutes to be safe. Lopez Sénéchal said she felt "fine" after the game and Auriemma said they’ll keep an eye on her to be safe.

And despite starting in place of Fudd, Caroline Ducharme is still working her way back from neck stiffness that forced her out of UConn’s exhibition and season opener. She played 29 minutes yesterday but spent a good portion of the third and fourth quarters on the bench with four fouls and five turnovers.

Without Mühl, UConn’s starting lineup could become more forward-heavy and look like: Lopez Sénéchal, Aubrey Griffin, Edwards, Ducharme and Ayanna Patterson or Amari DeBerry. Or Auriemma could also take a chance on freshman Inês Bettencourt and start her in place of Mühl at point guard.

No matter who starts, though, Sunday’s game (just like how Thursday’s ended) will come down to just those seven players and what they do on the court.

"If you had said to me, 'At some point, you need to prepare to have this lineup in the last three minutes of the game, I would say that's not possible,'" Auriemma said. "Sometimes the only way you can prepare for something like that is to actually to be in that situation and then see how you handle it."

Auriemma later added: "I think every lineup that we put out there going forward until we get some semblance of order back works fairly well until that moment when it doesn't. And now you're scrambling around trying to figure out how who do I get out first because you know you need to make a change because it can't last. So, we just have to find how long can a particular lineup be out on the floor together and be effective before it starts to go the other way and then be ready to make the changes we have to make."

It doesn’t help that two of UConn’s available seven players are averaging less than 10 minutes a game and have only played in six of UConn’s eight games (Bettencourt has only played in five). Combined DeBerry and Bettencourt have made 10 of 14 shots so far this season with DeBerry playing a career-high 26 minutes on Thursday.

"You look at our bench (of injured players) and you go, 'Every kid on the bench is someone we count on to score points.' And now we're gonna have a team out on the floor, where the one thing that they don't think they're comfortable with is scoring points," Auriemma said. "And I don't know how we can win without shooting or scoring? So, it's not about X's and O's. It's about the mindset that they all of a sudden are going to have to acquire and will they be able to do it? I don't know."

The Huskies won’t be the only team Sunday with a short bench.

Maryland only has nine available players.

The Terps have lost both sophomore Emma Chardon (torn meniscus) and junior Allie Kubek (ACL) to season-ending injuries. Freshman guard Ava Sciolla missed Thursday’s game at Purdue with an illness and fellow freshman Mila Reynolds is day-to-day with a lower-body injury.

UConn avoided back-to-back losses on Thursday without three of its starters and with an estimated 40 points and at least 15 assists (Mühl and Bueckers) sitting on the bench.

After Sunday, the Huskies will get next week off between games due to finals, which should hopefully give all those who need it — which is pretty much every player at this point — rest and ample time for recovery.

Maggie.Vanoni@hearstmediact.com  @maggie_vanoni