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Muhl, in line to become all-time assist leader, slated to leave UConn after the season of a lifetime

Mar. 12—MOHEGAN — Nika Muhl calls this the best year of her life, so much accomplished, so many emotions.

"They took me and my team to Croatia to play in front of my people," Muhl, the Croatian native, was saying of this season with the UConn women's basketball program, "brought my sister over to play in Gampel and then just the Senior Night. I mean, the whole year was too emotional for me, so many things going on."

Muhl dissolves into tears at the thought of all of it. Fellow senior Paige Bueckers, who has announced she will return to UConn next season due to missing a large part of the last two years with injuries, dissolves into tears at the thought of Muhl leaving.

Nevertheless, Muhl thought it was time to go, "a feeling," she called it.

She posted the announcement Friday on social media. She will move on after the season, seeking a professional career.

The post included black and white photos of Muhl and head coach Geno Auriemma in Auriemma's Mercedes with the words, "Last ride with my G (Auriemma). (Peace sign) out, UConn Nation, I will miss you so much!"

"I joke around with them all the time," UConn's Bueckers said, referring to Muhl and senior forward Aaliyah Edwards and her attempts to coerce them to return along with her.

"But it's their decision. I know they'll do what's best for them. I want them to do what's best for them. I think it's best for them to come back, but who am I to judge."

But of course, Muhl is not done yet with her UConn career.

She finished with eight points and nine assists in the top-seeded Huskies' 78-42 victory Monday over Georgetown in the Big East Conference tournament championship game before 7,918 fans at Mohegan Sun Arena and earned a spot on the all-tournament team along with Bueckers (the Most Outstanding Player) and redshirt freshman Ice Brady.

Over the weekend, Muhl also passed all-time program greats Renee Montgomery, Jennifer Rizzotti and Diana Taurasi on UConn's all-time assists list.

Muhl has 651 career assists, trailing only Moriah Jefferson (659).

A 5-foot-11 guard from Zagreb, Croatia, Muhl has played in 126 career games at UConn, starting 104. She's averaged 5.2 assists per game, played in two Final Fours, broke the Huskies' single-season assists record last year — eclipsing another all-time great in Sue Bird — and was named Big East Defensive Player of the Year twice.

Muhl has been a fan favorite, a defensive gem and team spokesman from the moment she and Bueckers broke in together during the 2020-21 season and giggled their way through Zoom interviews with an air of mischief, teaching Auriemma the meaning of the slang term "my slime" (someone you would give your all for) as freshmen.

"It's kind of unfortunate we didn't get to play together more, but this is like my sister, my twin," Bueckers said Monday, becoming emotional before she continued.

"She's been there for me through everything that I've been through and I've been there for her whatever she's going through. But this is what makes the game of basketball so special is that we're remembered for what we did on the court, but what us players will take away the most is our relationships and the memories and just the bonds that we've created.

"I'm sad she's leaving. I'm proud to see her go. I know she'll be great wherever she goes, but it's been a real joy to play with Nika and be her teammate."

UConn (29-5) will receive its placement in the NCAA tournament bracket Sunday. The Huskies have struggled for three consecutive seasons with injuries, with Muhl taking the sole responsibilities as point guard last year in Bueckers' absence. On Monday, the Huskies played with seven players, seven more with injuries.

Muhl passed Taurasi on an assist to Bueckers in the fourth quarter.

"I'm forever grateful and thankful that I was able to share those moments with the whole team," Muhl said of her season's worth of memories. "And I'm so thankful to coach and the whole coaching staff and the whole program, everybody, to be able to make that happen for me.

"And I just felt like with all of that, it was the best year of my life. I just felt like I have given my all to this program. It's just a feeling when it's time for you to leave."

v.fulkerson@theday.com