Saniya Chong could not have had worse timing.
Early in the third quarter of the University of Connecticut women's basketball team's game at Notre Dame on Dec. 7, the senior guard took an inadvertent elbow to the face. She struggled to make her way to the bench but did manage to come back and play the final 1:41 of the Huskies' 72-61 win.
The after-effects hit when Chong got back on campus.
"The first couple of days it was like everything," Chong said Tuesday after practice at the Werth Champions Center. "My whole body hurt, I had headaches, there was pressure, my sight, I was sensitive to light … everything."
It was tough enough Chong didn't make the trip for UConn's game at Kansas State on Dec. 11. The sociology major would have to take her fall semester final exams while dealing with the concussion-like symptoms.
"Each day it got better but there was still that pressure in my head," Chong said. "It was frustrating because I would think that I was fine but once I did a little something, or even just look at my phone too long, it messed everything up again. I knew I had to get the rest I needed."
She would remain on the bench for the Huskies' game with Ohio State at the XL Center in Hartford Dec. 19. But the next day Chong traveled to Nebraska with her teammates and played 28 minutes in last Wednesday's 84-41 victory over the Cornhuskers.
The Ossining, New York, native is expected to return to the starting lineup for Thursday's showdown with No. 4 Maryland at the Xfinity Center in College Park, Maryland.
"It was pretty tough sitting out and not being on the court when I know they needed me," Chong said. "Coming back, I didn't get many practices in but I knew I had to go and play my hardest.
"I really wanted to come back and I felt better. By the time we went to Nebraska, I felt 100 percent."
Chong finished with eight points and four assists to no turnovers as the top-ranked Huskies (11-0) recorded their 86th consecutive win. She would play 18 second-half minutes, including the final 15:13, as coach Geno Auriemma opted to keep freshman guard Crystal Dangerfield on the bench.
In her nine games, she is averaging 5.0 points and 2.8 assists in 21.9 minutes. Her assist-to-turnover ratio of plus-5.0 would top the American Athletic Conference but an average of 3.0 assists is required to qualify for the leaders.
With a sellout crowd expected to be supporting the Terrapins (12-0) Thursday, Auriemma said he is likely to go with his most experienced starting five and that includes Chong.
"Saniya has looked really good," Auriemma said. "I hate to ever have a kid lose their job because they got hurt. If she's back to 100 percent, and it certainly looks like she is, then I don't see why she shouldn't."
Chong is the only UConn player still in uniform from the Huskies' only other trip to College Park on Nov. 15, 2013. She did not score in 10 minutes as UConn, which was down to seven scholarship players due to injuries to Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Morgan Tuck, pulled away in the second half to defeat Maryland 72-55.
But she had a major impact in the Huskies' game with the Terrapins a year ago Wednesday in the Maggie Dixon Classic at Madison Square Garden. With UConn's once double-figure lead down to four, Chong took a pass from Kia Nurse and drained a 3-pointer with 40.3 seconds left to start a game-ending 8-2 run that secured an 83-73 win.
The timing of her return to the Huskies' rotation could not be better.
But how did her final exams go?
"Not bad. I thought I would have done a lot better but my teachers thought differently," Chong said with a laugh. "But I focused as much as I could and I think I did my best."
AURIEMMA ON DIACO
Auriemma was asked Tuesday about UConn athletic director David Benedict's decision to fire football coach Bob Diaco.
"It's part of life," Auriemma said. "I tried to explain that to our players. Obviously they're pretty good friends with a lot of the guys on the team. That is the real world. Sometimes when you're playing college sports you are like in this little bubble and in this fantasy world. You get up and everything you want every single day is given to you. There is nothing that you want for. Then something like that is a reminder that when they leave here and get into the real world and you are being evaluated on your performance, that is what happens.
"The sooner they learn that and understand that, it helps them and helps everybody. College athletics in some ways is not so different from the real world anymore. We pretend we are in a bubble. We pretend we are in Fantasyland. But the more you look at this and the longer you are in it, you are like, 'This is the real world, and real world things happen."