UConn women get the good news about coach Chris Dailey, then deliver an inspired performance to beat NC State – Hartford Courant

HARTFORD — For all these many years, Plan A has always been enough for the UConn women’s basketball program. Great players, playing together, exquisitely coached.

Over the last couple of years, injuries have often forced Geno Auriemma to go from Plan A to Plan B, and right on down the alphabet.

But there is never a plan conceived or imagined for the UConn women that does not include CD

So the sight of associate head coach Chris Dailey, who has been at Auriemma’s side for all his 38 years at UConn, on the XL Center floor Sunday as medical personnel rushed to her aid following the national anthem, just before the game Sunday against NC State. was frightening, shocking, disconcerting for players, coaches, fans. One could almost feel the bedrock beneath the program tremble for a moment.

“When we had a hard time getting her to walk off the court that’s when I became more concerned than anything,” Auriemma said, after UConn’s 91-69 victory. “Then obviously, when she was on the floor, everything runs through your mind, every possible scenario, everything you can possibly imagine. We have really, really good people here and they were on it right away, but I know it shook up a lot of people in our program.”

The players were rushed off the court and into their locker rooms as the XL Center, with more than 10,000, fell silent. As Dailey was taken off on a stretcher, she was sitting up and alert and the crowd cheered when she waved.

Soon, the word got to Auriemma that it was nothing serious, and Dailey, after undergoing some tests, was headed home by late afternoon. Now, Auriemma had to gather himself, and then get his players past the shock and focused on the game, which started 10 minutes late.

“It was definitely very difficult for us to start the game,” Nika Mühl said. “It was a huge emotional roller coaster. We were just all down at one moment, and we had to pick ourselves up and find strength and energy. Once we found out CD was OK, that brought us even closer together.”

Mühl, the fiery point guard from Croatia, and Dailey are especially close. “They fight like cats and dogs every day,” Auriemma said. “I think Nika was more shaken up than anyone.”

But UConn, with Paige Bueckers and Ice Brady lost for the season, and Dorka Juhász missing Sunday after breaking her thumb, has learned the hard way that things will not always be easy, has learned to play with the hand they’re dealt, no matter how difficult

“If you asked me maybe two years ago, when all this adversity started happening, I would have been like, ‘I don’t know,'” said Mühl, who set a UConn record with 15 assists, playing her position that way. Dailey, or any coach for that matter, would undoubtedly want it played. “But right now, after we’ve faced so many adversities in these two years that I’ve been here, still going on, we’re always missing somebody, I think we’re just used to it and we know how to deal with it We’ve just gotten so much mentally tougher, not just the players but the coaches, too. It’s hard to deal with all of this, when you have the team plans and stuff like this happens where you have no control over it.”

This past week, the UConn women, who will certainly be moving up from the No. 5 spot in the next AP poll, have looked as if nothing is beyond their control, knocking off two top-10 teams, third-ranked Texas and No. 10 NC State, in a rematch of the classic OT Elite Eight game last March in Bridgeport. There are more good teams, fewer great teams out there, Auriemma theorized, but the country has been alerted — the Huskies are still here.

When they first got to the XL Center, Bueckers, Brady and Juhász walked past Auriemma and he turned to his assistants and said, “I betcha that’s 40 points and 20 rebounds that just walked in the door that isn’t playing today.” He then relayed that to the players.

UConn's Nika Mühl, left, Paige Bueckers, center, and Dorka Juhász, second from right, walk off the court during a medical emergency involving associate head coach Chris Dailey before their game against NC State at the XL Center.  UConn won, 91-69, after learning Dailey would be fine.

“This is probably the only place in America where people say, ‘that’s not a problem, you’re going to win by a lot,'” he said. “I told the players, ‘this is the only place in America where people talk like that.’

They talk like that in Connecticut because the players that took the court this week make it so. Azzi Fudd has not only been the best player on the court, but has looked like the best player in America, scoring 32 in both games. Aubrey Griffin, back from her own season-ending knee injury in 2021, has been a difference-maker. She had four steals and six points in the first six minutes as UConn jumped out to leads of 9-0 and 21-9. Griffin finished with 16 points, six rebounds and six steals.

“You can chalk that fast start up to one person,” said Auriemma, who had admonished Griffin to play with abandon and be disruptive. On back-to-back possessions she made blocks, containing the ball for the steal, and took it to the rim both times.

And UConn had grad transfer Lou Lopez-Sénéchal, who scored 20, all in the second half, and Aaliyah Edwards, who picked up the slack with Juhász missing, stayed out of foul trouble and scored 20 with 12 rebounds.

All of this would have been hard to assume at about 1:10 pm, given the stunned, troubled looks on the players’ faces when they re-emerged from the locker room and huddled up for Auriemma to tell them the CD was fine. Then they steeled themselves and did what the players in this program have learned to do: took care of business.

“It was just a scare, but people told us she was fine and we were like, ‘phew, OK,'” Mühl said. “She texted us during the game, we saw it after the game, she said, ‘Guys, I’m sorry for the drama, I’m fine.’ We definitely played this game for CD She definitely gave us strength.”

Dom Amore can be reached at damore@courant.com

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