Nika Mühl is laser-focused on a national championship

After three seasons ending in heartbreak at UConn, the senior point guard will do whatever's necessary to earn a ring.

Photo: Ian Bethune

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Last week’s Weekly:

Nika Mühl will do whatever it takes to win a national championship

Nika Mühl hates losing.

After UConn fell to Arizona in the 2021 Final Four, she refused to re-watch the game for months. In the aftermath of the Huskies’ stunning defeat in the Sweet Sixteen vs. Ohio State, the point guard was inconsolable — more than anyone else in the locker room.

For most of her life, losing was incomprehensible to Mühl.

“When it all ended, I thought of [last] year as a failure. I'm not gonna lie,” she said. “Every time we don't accomplish that last goal (winning a national championship), I think of a year as of failure.”

Then, another basketball player from the Mediterranean helped changed her perspective. One night after the season ended, Mühl saw a video where Greek star Giannis Antetokounmpo explained how losing isn’t a failure — it’s an opportunity to learn.

“Every year you build towards something,” he began, “… there’s always steps to it. Michael Jordan played 15 years, won six championships. The other nine years are a failure? … There’s no failure in sports. There’s good days, bad days, some days you’re able to be successful, some days you’re not. Some days it’s your turn, some days it’s not your turn. That’s what sports [are] about. You don’t always win. Someone else is going to win.”

That short clip from Antetokounmpo helped Mühl understand that — unless your name is Breanna Stewart — losing is inevitable. Most seasons don’t end with a championship, but the lessons learned during the course of a year can help lead to a title in the future.

“I changed my mind and I think it was a huge growing year and I don't think of it as a failure anymore,” Mühl said. “Obviously, we didn't accomplish what we wanted to and our goal was high — as it should be, as is expected in this program — but I stopped thinking about it as a failure. I started thinking about it like a lesson and like just the growing part of this journey.”

As Mühl enters her senior season at UConn, she only knows heartbreak in the NCAA Tournament. In fact, all the current Huskies know about winning the national championship is what they’ve seen in photos and videos or been told by the coaches. The last players with rings to their names were Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson, who played their last game with UConn in 2019.

Mühl might not know exactly what it takes to win a title herself, but she’s willing to do whatever’s necessary to change that.

“If we gotta go through [the last two seasons] to get to our goal, I'm doing it,” she said. “My fourth year, I'm ready. I'm excited. I know what to do. I know how to practice. I'm ready to show the younger guys how to practice in order to be where you want to be. So yeah, it's gonna be an exciting season full of hard work and relying on all those lessons that we learned [the] past two years.”

That ultimate goal will likely require some self-sacrifice from Mühl, though. Last year, she led the team in both total minutes (1,316 — over 100 more than her next closest teammate) and minutes per game (36.6 — good for the top one percent of the nation), not to mention she set the program record for single-season assists with 284.

With Paige Bueckers back and the arrival of an apprentice in KK Arnold, Mühl’s role won’t be nearly as prominent as it was last season. That doesn’t bother her.

“I'm not worried about playing time,” she said. “That's never been my priority. I feel like whatever minutes I get, however I get them, I just gotta get the maximum out of it.”

Bueckers’ return also doesn’t necessarily mean Mühl will play less. The former national player of the year is plenty capable of being an off-ball guard, which would allow Mühl to run the offense. That would also help the Huskies have a more versatile offense with multiple players who can dish from multiple spots.

“I don't think with Paige coming back, my role is going to change much,” Mühl said. “I feel like everybody knows what I'm good at. I know what other people are good at.”

Even if Mühl’s playing time or role decreases, that’s a sacrifice she’s willing to make. After three years of heartbreak, the senior is willing to do whatever’s necessary to end up on top.

“My goal has been the same since my freshman year. It hasn't changed. That is to win a national championship,” Mühl said. “Whatever I have to do for however many minutes I have to do it to accomplish that goal, I'm all in.”

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