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For Moore, Huskies an honor to play on Martin Luther King Day

This will be the 17th straight Martin Luther King Day the UConn women have been afforded the opportunity to play before a national television audience, going 12-4 previously, including an 81-48 victory last season at then-No. 6 Duke.

UConn meets another ACC opponent tonight in No. 11 North Carolina.

“I see it as an opportunity and an opportunity to play on a stage that when (King) was alive, wasn’t there, not only for female athletes, but black female athletes,” said UConn All-American Maya Moore, asked of the significance in playing on the holiday each year. “So I see it as a celebration of where our country has come.

“A big reason is because of his passion and his selflessness investing his life for human rights, so if you think of it that way, it’s pretty cool. It’s one of those days where you just want to leave everything on the court.”

UConn began its tradition of playing on Martin Luther King Day when, as the No. 2 team in the country, it met No. 1 Tennessee in 1995 at Gampel Pavilion, beating Tennessee 77-66 before a sold-out crowd and earning the top spot in the Associated Press Top 25 for the first time in program history. It was a stepping stone for UConn’s first national championship, which came later that season.

Shrinking roster

So just when it appeared the Huskies might have their full complement of players for tonight’s game against North Carolina, when Tiffany Hayes was cleared to play after suffering a mild concussion, there came another e-mail from the UConn athletic communications department Sunday stating that freshman forward Samarie Walker did not make the trip to Chapel Hill.

The first e-mail said Hayes did not practice Sunday with the UConn women’s basketball team, but said that “Tiffany has passed all of her concussion tests and has reported no lingering effects (headaches, etc.) of (Saturday’s) collision.”

The second said Walker “remained in Storrs to attend to a personal matter.”

That leaves No. 2 UConn nine healthy players against the No. 11 Tar Heels. Hayes is averaging 15 points and 4.4 rebounds for the Huskies (16-1). Walker is averaging 6.2 points and 5.8 rebounds per game, the leading rebounder among the most players.

North Carolina is also 16-1.

Here’s what UConn’s Moore had to say of her collision with Hayes Saturday during the Louisville game at the XL Center, during which Hayes suffered the concussion:

“I was going up to try to double team … I think her head hit my hip or somewhere hard,” Maya said, adding that Hayes looked like her normal self after the game. “… She’s looking fine. She’s not like laid out looking out of it.”

Friday night lights

UConn recruit Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, an incoming UConn guard who is the top-ranked recruit in the nation, played Friday night in the Spalding Hoophall Classic before watching the Huskies beat Louisville Saturday at the XL Center, part of a sellout crowd.

Mosqueda-Lewis plays for Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, Calif., currently ranked third in the country. She is a 6-foot-guard, according to the height listed on her USA Basketball bio, but is 5-10 according to the Mater Dei roster in the program Friday at Springfield College.

Amazingly, Mater Dei, under coach Kevin Kiernan, has also played in the Nike Tournament of Champions in Phoenix and the Title IX Classic in Washington, D.C., both in December.

Mater Dei, which practiced at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Friday, also played in Springfield two years ago.

“The experience was so wonderful,” Kiernan said of his previous trip to the birthplace of basketball. “As long as they want us, we’d love to come back.”

Mosqueda-Lewis, a prolific shooter, finished with 17 points in Friday’s win, playing much of the second half with four fouls.

“She was already a scorer as a freshman,” Kiernan said after the game. “But she’s been working on better ways to get her shot off. She’s going to have to do that at the next level. … She’s going into a hornet’s nest and she knows it. Both positive and negative.”

“I know it’s going to be a big leap for me,” said Mosqueda-Lewis, who said she has asked UConn’s Moore to wear her No. 23 after she graduates but hasn’t gotten a final ruling yet from the two-time national player of the year. “Hopefully they are going to get me as ready as possible for my freshman year. Hopefully, I transition well. Hopefully I’m ready for that.”

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