Maya Moore is in a league all her own

UConn senior Maya Moore reacts after being called for a foul against LSU in the game at Gampel Pavilion on Sunday. Moore needs 23 points to become the program's career scoring leader.
UConn senior Maya Moore reacts after being called for a foul against LSU in the game at Gampel Pavilion on Sunday. Moore needs 23 points to become the program's career scoring leader. Sean D. Elliot/The Day Buy Photo

Storrs - Just talking to Maya Moore is enough to tell you're in select company.

"She brings something different to the table," said Lorin Dixon, Moore's fellow senior and her roommate since she's been a member of the UConn women's basketball program. "It's different when you talk to her. There's a part of me that comes out. Like, 'Hey, life makes sense now.'"

Then, there's what Moore brings to the court, encapsulated so well this week by LSU coach and former WNBA and U.S. Olympic coach Van Chancellor.

"Does Minnesota have the first pick in the WNBA draft?" Chancellor said following LSU's loss to UConn on Sunday at Gampel Pavilion, a game in which Moore had 26 points and 12 rebounds. "I wouldn't trade that pick away for any other whole team."

Added UConn teammate Tiffany Hayes: "I feel like I'm a fan sometimes. I have no choice. It's just always amazing when it comes to Maya."

Moore, the three-time All-American, two-time Wade Trophy winner as the national player of the year, two-time national champion, Academic All-American, ESPY award winner, insightful roommate and friend, has a chance to join even more select company today when the top-ranked Huskies take on South Florida in Tampa (7 p.m., CPTV).

Moore, averaging 26.0 points and 7.7 rebounds per game, is just 22 points shy of UConn's all-time scoring record of 2,346 points, set last season by Tina Charles, having scored 25 or more points four times already on a team consisting of five freshmen and seven players overall who never started a game prior to this season.

UConn is in the midst of an 84-game winning streak and is 120-2 overall since Moore's arrival.

She played for a gold medal-winning U.S. National Team this fall in the world championships and is a likely Olympian in 2012. And UConn coach Geno Auriemma reports Moore, a 6-foot forward from Lawrenceville, Ga., is better than ever.

That part came as news to Chancellor.

"I thought when she was a freshman she didn't have far to go," Chancellor said. "She's been a player since I first saw her. She's a special player. She's one of the best to ever play this game."

*******

Moore caught a pass from Stefanie Dolson on Sunday and flipped it back over her head for a reverse layup. Even she shook her head a little bit as she ran back down the floor.

"It's one of those things," Moore said of what she was thinking at that precise moment, as the Gampel Pavilion crowd erupted. "You work so hard in practice. You do drills. You make cuts. You mess up. You get it right. You struggle. And then you get to the game and you get it right.

"That was great. But it's not just a great play. It's everything that went into that play coming about. I loved it."

If Moore seems to be having fun this season, she is.

The winning streak, the scoring record, her freshman teammates. Whatever the question is, she answers it with aplomb.

She loved the homecoming trip she took to play at Georgia Tech in Atlanta on Nov. 21, where more than 100 friends and family members were on hand to see her, many of them wearing specially made T-shirts with her name on them.

And she spoke recently of her beginnings as a player and all the hard work that made the game so much fun for her.

"Sometimes it looks so easy, but it's hours of practice. It's hours as a kid shooting in the driveway, lowering the rim and dunking on it, using your imagination," Moore said. "It's your best when you're having fun with it."

Auriemma said he thinks it's important for Moore to have fun and that she's certainly earned that privilege — although that didn't stop him from chastising her for being too stagnant at the start of the LSU game.

"It's your senior year in college and you get to take whatever shot you want, do whatever you want and nobody yells at you," Auriemma said. "You're the best player in the country and you're just going to go out and enjoy it.

"She certainly looks like she is."

*******

One of the questions asked of Moore coming into the season, one of the ones she answered without so much of a hesitation or an eye-roll was this:

Can she do what program legend Diana Taurasi did and lift the Huskies on her shoulders to a third straight national championship, the way Taurasi did in 2004, her senior season?

"We'll find out," said Moore, who has been to three final fours and has won back-to-back national championships. "I feel like I'm prepared. I feel like I'm at a point in my career at UConn where I'm going to attack the challenge."

Auriemma said playing with the U.S. team this fall was a learning process for Moore, the only collegiate player on the team. She had the opportunity to be teammates with Taurasi, among other Olympic veterans and WNBA all-stars.

Auriemma, who coached the national team, called it a humbling experience for Moore, used to being the best at everything whenever she's on the floor.

"Now all of a sudden, you're 20, 21 and you're out there with some 30-year-olds," Auriemma said. "I don't care who you are. She learned a lot of things: what to do when people take things away from you, what to do when you're in a situation you haven't been in.

"I hope she doesn't try to be Maya Moore, Diana Taurasi, Tina Charles and Sue Bird all in one. Just be yourself. It's going to be a difficult year for her."

Moore may be in a situation she hasn't been, with five freshmen in training. But, a captain for the third straight year, she has a plan of attack.

"Be humble and continue to learn. Listen to coach. Be mindful of what everybody's doing," Moore said.

Chancellor, leading to a compliment for Moore, tells of a night when he coached the Houston Comets of the WNBA that Taurasi scored 47 against his team. And it would have been 67, he said with a laugh, except for a couple fouls.

"There's no defense with this kid," Chancellor remembers thinking. "Taurasi thinks she can score from New York City.

"... This kid (Moore), has got the same thing."

v.fulkerson@theday.com

TOP DOGS

The career scoring leaders for the UConn women's basketball program, with total points:

1. Tina Charles 2,346

2. Maya Moore 2,324

3. Nykesha Sales 2,178

4. Kerry Bascom 2,177

5. Diana Taurasi 2,156

6. Kara Wolters 2,141

7. Rebecca Lobo 2,133

8. Renee Montgomery 1,990

9. Svetlana Abrosimova 1,865

10. Ann Strother 1,699

11. Shea Ralph 1,678

12. Barbara Turner 1,629

13. Swin Cash 1,583

14. Wendy Davis 1,552

15. Jennifer Rizzotti 1,540

16. Cathy Bochain 1,534

17. Asjha Jones 1,502

18. Kalana Greene 1,444

19. Peggy Walsh 1,413

20. Chris Gedney 1,409

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