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Notebook: Azzi Fudd, Nika Mühl’s injury recoveries “coming along great”, no timetable for Aubrey Griffin

Napheesa Collier also made a surprise appearance at practice on Friday and the team will get to return home for Christmas this year after staying on campus last season.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

There could finally be a light at the end of the tunnel for UConn women’s basketball’s injury woes. While none of Azzi Fudd, Aubrey Griffin or Nika Mühl will be back until after Christmas — which isn’t much of a surprise since UConn’s final game before the holiday break is Sunday vs. Louisville — there is some positive news in regard to the two guards.

Both Fudd and Mühl, who are both dealing with a stress reaction in a foot, could be back on the court in early 2022 if they continue to progress well.

“The other two (Fudd and Mühl), according to our medical people, are coming along great,” Auriemma said. “This last break will be really good for them and after that, hopefully we can start working them back in.”

The outlook on Griffin isn’t as bright. The junior hasn’t played yet this season due to a combination of a high ankle sprain, leg issue and back problems but looked to be getting close to a debut at one point.

Ahead of the Seton Hall game on Dec. 3, Auriemma expected Griffin to play a few minutes, only for her to be ruled out a day later. She also warmed up with the team prior to both the Georgia Tech and UCLA games, but did not play.

While a host of injuries have kept Griffin out so far, her back is currently preventing her from playing.

“It doesn’t look good right now,” Auriemma said about Griffin on his radio show Wednesday. “It’s been some muscle pain that keeps flaring up and they’re trying to address it and trying every different treatment. We can’t seem to get to the bottom of it.”

“Aubrey’s had more more tests the last couple of days,” the coach said on Friday. “She gave it a shot for a day or two and it just didn’t respond. So I can’t even give you what a timeline looks like as far as Aubrey’s concerned.”

Edwards also sat out a day of practice after tweaking something — Auriemma didn’t specify what — following a hard fall in the win over UCLA. Her status doesn’t appear to be in doubt for Sunday’s game, though.

Collier returns to Storrs

UConn had a special guest at practice on Friday: Former two-time All-American and current Minnesota Lynx star Napheesa Collier. The 2019 WNBA Rookie of the Year worked out as a member of the practice squad — which proved to be a special moment for the current players.

“The players were pretty impressed and pretty amazed that someone could could do some of the things that she did, given what what state she’s in,” Auriemma said. “But I don’t think there’s anybody that has anything but incredible amount of respect for Phees and I think the kids were pretty pretty pumped to see her.”

Collier and her fiance, Alex Bazzell, announced she was pregnant in late November. While her due date hasn’t been made public, Collier told People Magazine she found out the news after the 2021 WNBA season came to a close.

There’s no shortage of excitement for the new baby.

“We seen her in the trainer room, I freaked out for a second,” Evina Westbrook said. “I was like ‘You’ve got a bun in the oven.’ She’s like, ‘Yes, I do.’”

In fact, the still-unborn child already has a scholarship offer from UConn waiting for her.

“If [Collier’s baby is] a third of the person, the player, the strength of character that Pheesa was, I’ll take her on my team at birth. I don’t even want to wait 18 years,” Auriemma joked earlier in the month.

Collier’s pregnancy did put the Huskies in an odd spot, though. Olivia Nelson-Ododa — one of only two players on the roster who played with Collier at UConn — wasn’t sure how to go up against her.

“I was a little nervous. I was like ‘Should I box out? I don’t know,’” the senior said with a laugh.

Naturally, Nelson-Ododa’s comment created an opportunity for Auriemma to get a jab in at his team and he didn’t hesitate in taking it.

“We’re a very gentle group. We don’t necessarily break any eggs when we play, so to speak,” he said. “So I think Pheesa was safe with this group.”

Huskies heading home for the holidays

Last season, UConn voted as a team to stay on-campus through Christmas instead of going home in order to avoid a mandatory quarantine upon their return to campus. But this year, the Huskies won’t have to make any such decision and will be allowed to head back to their families following their matchup with Louisville on Sunday.

“Last year was just such an unusual year, so when we have our breaks like that or just to get to go home and see family, we definitely don’t want to take that for granted,” Nelson-Ododa said.

“We’re definitely excited,” Westbrook added. “I think especially for our international kids, also just our younger players, they can just go home, be around their family, kind of just regroup and then come back and just feel just a sense of like, ‘Okay, you know, got to see our people for a little bit, now it’s back to work.’”

Last year, Nelson-Ododa dressed up as Santa Claus while Westbrook went as an elf while the two woke their teammates up on Christmas Day. Though Nelson-Ododa said she won’t be Santa again, a team holiday tradition will continue.

“I think one of the funny things was people were still, ‘Are we doing Secret Santa?’ So I think they liked when we did that last year,” Westbrook said. “We’ll do it when we get back, like around New Year’s Time, so we can still have a little thing with the team.”