Maya Moore, not the best Huskie ever, but the game's best now

Posted: March 30, 2011

I DID NOT agree with Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie on Monday when she called Connecticut star Maya Moore the best women's basketball player in the world.

I might be in the minority, but I don't even consider her the greatest player in UConn history.

Former Huskie and current WNBA star Diana Taurasi would cut your heart out and then give you mustard as a condiment as she served it to you on a platter.

But I don't blame McCallie for heaping all of the pregame praise on Moore that she could.

I'd have done the same thing.

If my team were about to face Connecticut for a spot in the women's Final Four, I wouldn't want to say anything to give Moore any extra incentive.

Not that it mattered.

Moore might not be the best women's player on the planet, but she certainly is the best in college basketball.

And that was all she needed to be to push top seed Connecticut to its 12th Final Four with a 75-40 demolition of second seed Duke last night in the Philadelphia Regional final at the Liacouras Center.

By the time the game was done, Moore had 28 points on 12-for-18 shooting, pulled down 10 rebounds and recorded seven steals. She also became only the seventh player in women's Division I history to score 3,000 points.

"I think all of us were really on the same page today," Moore said, in her typical manner of deflecting accolades away from herself and toward her team. "In the second half, when we settled down, we were all moving the ball around.

"We had 24 assists. When we're passing like that, I'm probably going to have a lot of points, because my teammates are going to find me.

"When the tournament comes around, I kind of get the mind-set of, if I'm open, I'm going to shoot it."

Now it's off to Indianapolis, as Moore tries to join Taurasi by leading the No. 1-ranked Huskies (36-1) to three consecutive NCAA titles.

Moore's resumé is outrageous.

She'll go into the Final Four with a ridiculous 150-3 career record. Just yesterday, she joined former Oklahoma center Courtney Paris as the only four-time first-team All-Americas in women's history.

Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma has had some great players during his run at UConn, but even he knows Moore and Taurasi stand above the rest. It's not only their talents, which are at the highest levels seen in women's hoops. It's an intangible.

"Diana and Maya came here with it," Auriemma said. "They have this little edge to them. Maya keeps it hidden, where Diana shows it to everybody every day.

"But during the game, when it's being played, both of them think, 'There is nobody as good as me on the court. Even when I'm playing bad, I'm the best player on the court.' Not every player can say that."

Moore had been un-Maya-like over the last couple of games, good by most other players' standards but a little off for her.

That's why Auriemma and assistant coach Shea Ralph had said Moore was in for a big game.

"You could just sense it," Auriemma said. "There were too many games leading up to this, where things just didn't click, for whatever reason.

"[Moore] doesn't let too many big games go by without going off on a couple of them. I didn't think she was going to let this one go by."

Contrary to the final margin, this was a game for about 16 1/2 minutes.

With 3:37 left in the first half, Connecticut led only 23-20.

Duke looked like an entirely different team than the one that had gotten beaten down from tip to buzzer in an 87-51 loss at UConn in January.

What changed is what always changes things for the Huskies - they have Maya Moore, and nobody else does.

Moore got a defensive rebound that led to a basket by Tiffany Hayes.

Then Moore made a three-pointer to push the lead to 28-20.

With 16 seconds left, Moore blocked a shot to give the Huskies the ball back.

A few seconds before the half, Duke prevented Moore from launching a trey, so she slipped past two defenders and put in a pull-up jumper as the buzzer sounded. The 10-point lead UConn took into the half might as well have been 100, because Duke was done for good the moment the net snapped.

If you're looking for the edge Connecticut will have in the Final Four, start with Moore. The last time she lost an NCAA Tournament game was when she was a freshman in the 2008 national semifinals.

"There are only a couple kids in America that are playing next weekend that know how to win a national championship," Auriemma said. "I'm fortunate enough to have them on my team."

That's even more fortuitous when one of them is Maya Moore. *

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