UConn women’s basketball’s 85-77 win over Florida State came without their head coach Geno Auriemma on the sidelines. The 68-year old missed the game after he started feeling ill after shoot-around, which meant associate head coach Chris Dailey took the reins in his place. According to the team, Auriemma decided not to be on the sidelines out of abundance of caution and postgame, Dailey provided more details.
“He’s okay. I think it’s flu-like symptoms right now and dehydration,” she said. “He’s feeling better and we’re looking forward to seeing him.”
Even without Auriemma, the Huskies were in good hands as Dailey improved to 14-0 as acting head coach in her career. She’s now taken charge of the team for at least one game in each of the last five seasons: A two-game road trip to Wichita State and Tulsa in 2018-19 when Auriemma got sick, one game against Oklahoma at Mohegan Sun in 2019-20 when he recovered from diverticulitis surgery, the first two games of the 2021 NCAA Tournament after he contracted Covid and at Creighton last season when he became sick prior to tip-off.
Seven of Dailey’s wins have come in the last five years after totaling the same number in the 33 seasons prior to that.
“I’m very proud of our assistant/head coach right here,” Nika Mühl said postgame. “She’s still undefeated. After we heard what happened with Coach (Auriemma), we’re used to it but it’s still devastating every time we hear some news like that. But I feel like she stepped in big time as always.”
Naturally, Dailey deflected credit to the team’s other two assistants: Jamelle Elliott and Morgan Valley.
“Coach wasn’t able to be with us today so we had to work as a staff,” she said. “Jamelle and Morgan were great on the bench and we worked as a staff [to] give our kids the best chance to win.”
This isn’t even the first time UConn has been short one coach on the bench this season. Prior to the Huskies’ win over NC State in November, Dailey collapsed after the national anthem and was taken to the hospital, though she was released the same day.
Juhász, Mühl return
While UConn lost Auriemma to an illness, it did get two key players back from injury: Dorka Juhász and Nika Mühl, both of whom earned the start.
Juhász missed seven games with a broken thumb picked up against Texas on Nov. 14 while Mühl sat out just one contest after suffering a concussion against Princeton on Dec. 7. Juhász had 15 points, nine rebounds and a career-high five blocks while Mühl racked up 12 assists, six points and six rebounds in the win.
For Mühl, her return was straightforward: Once she cleared concussion protocol, she could play again.
“The concussion protocol was good. It was all good. I passed all the steps necessary so I was back in practice by Thursday, Friday,” Mühl said. “I didn’t feel a difference honestly, it’s like I [wasn’t even out].”
That wasn’t the case for Juhász. While both Auriemma and Dailey have mentioned recently that she can’t make the injury worse, it’s still been a long process back. Juhász planned on playing last week — Dailey called her a “game-time decision” ahead of Princeton — until she suffered a setback.
“It’s still not fully healed and it’s still pretty painful,” Juhász explained. “It got hit, I wasn’t able to go through the whole practice, it swelled up, I couldn’t put the splint on. So there was a lot of physical barriers that led to decisions about playing.”
“I was really excited last week to jump into practice, go through practice and it just didn’t respond well and it swelled up. It was in a lot of pain,” she added later. “Talking to doctors, coaches, it was just not ready to go yet.”
The injury news isn’t all positive for UConn, though. After the game, Dailey revealed that Inês Bettencourt sprained her ankle in practice on Saturday. The freshman did not play but she was dressed to play unlike the team’s others injured players, Azzi Fudd, Paige Bueckers and Ice Brady, who were in black sweats.