When it came time to schedule Ball State versus UConn there was one thing that sparked the matchup, the Mühl sisters.
“It was the main reason we scheduled it,” head coach Brady Sallee said. “When Hana came here, UConn reached out to Beth Goetz who had worked at UConn. They got together and were like ‘It would be awesome if we could get the Mühl sisters together.’ Beth came to me and I said absolutely.”
“These kinds of situations are great perspectives,” Sallee said. “Think about two little girls from Croatia ending up on the biggest stage of basketball, playing against each other. It is stuff movies are made of.”
Although sophomore Hana Mühl said she was nervous playing in front of that many people, she still finished as the Cardinals’ second-highest scorer with nine points.
“It was overwhelming seeing everybody there,” Mühl said. “With my family in the stands, it was a really special moment for me.”
“I talked to my family that this was the best day of my life and I would not trade it for anything. I am super grateful for the experience, it meant a lot. It still doesn’t feel real.”
With her family in the stands, Mühl said that it was important they were there to share the experience with the whole family. It was the first time the two sisters were on opposite sides of the court for the game. Hana said the two had always played together for a club team but had never faced off.
“It is definitely way easier if you have her on the team, but playing against each other was awesome,” Mühl said.
On the biggest stage, junior Nyla Hampton said playing at No. 17 ranked UConn was more than she thought it would be.
“We were warming up and there is a 60-minute countdown on the clock that hasn’t even started yet,” Hampton said. “Students were running to their seats making sure they have a spot secured in the student section, that is just not something you see often.”
Sallee said, as a coach, he wants to put his players through unique experiences. It can travel, the teams they play or where they stay.
“I thought that this was as awesome as an environment that I have been around,” Sallee said. “There was clearly history in that place, and working the same sideline as Geno Auriemma is pretty special. I hope in time our players can understand what they just experienced and really appreciate it.”
With the game starting, Ball State committed seven quick fouls. The Cardinals had to change game plans. Sallee said it affected personnel and the ability to press UConn in the second quarter.
“We go in at halftime and 36 of their 52 points were from the free throw line or paint,” Sallee said. “Give UConn credit, they know where their bread is buttered. The fouls were frustrating.”
Even if Sallee was frustrated with fouls, he said the team was able to adjust and make the fouls not as big of a problem as it could have been.
The first quarter also saw junior Madelyn Bischoff exit with what appeared to be an ankle injury. Sallee said he did not have any information until the team got back. Even though she did not play three quarters, she was the Cardinals' leading scorer with 12 points.
With Bischoff out, Hampton said it hindered the offense in the second quarter.
“We were not hitting a bunch of shots and she definitely was,” Hampton said. “She hit three or four before she went down, so that is hard when you are not getting four or five open looks each possession. Missing that player we know is going to hit that knockdown kick out every time was definitely an adjustment we had to make.”
In the second quarter, Ball State only put up nine points. Sallee said UConn was able to force Ball State to one side of the court and intercept any passes to reverse it. After evaluating at halftime, Sallee said they were able to make adjustments.
Using the halftime adjustments, the Cardinals kept it close in the second half. In the last two quarters, Ball State was only outscored 38-33.
“Our team has the ability to respond,” Sallee said.
Responding against a top-ranked team, Hampton said it was a challenge to guard UConn. She said it was hard because players on UConn were able to read every screen and cut, so finding one way to stop them was not possible.
“They are not going to try and guess what you are going to do, they are waiting to see what you are going to do,” Hampton said. “Then they will play off of that. They are going to be patient.”
Overall, Hampton said they are able to take lessons away on what they need to do offensively and transition-wise. She also said there will always be places to get better on defense.
As the final whistle blew, Ball State fell 63-90. The only two losses coming from Notre Dame and UConn so far this season.
To wrap up the game, Sallee and Auriemma shook hands. Sallee thanked him for having Ball State. With only their words staying between the two coaches, Sallee said he would remember what Auriemma said for as long as he could. The two wished each other luck and went on.