Commentary

UConn streak is all that and Moore

With streak, Moore has separated herself in UConn and women's basketball lore

Originally Published: December 21, 2010
By Mechelle Voepel | ESPN.com

Maya Moore answers each question with such thoughtfulness that if you didn't know better, you'd never guess she has been asked thousands. It is her nature to take each query as if it truly matters, a respectfulness you just won't find in many people you encounter.

But Moore's probably never going to be able to give an adequate answer to what she means to UConn, because that definitely is not in her nature. She's a drummer, not a horn blower.

[+] EnlargeMaya Moore
David Butler II/US PresswireUConn's win streak -- this bit of unforgettable, gilded history -- will always belong to one player more than any other: Maya Moore.

So we will try to do it for her. When you consider that UConn is a program with such a jam-packed history of stars and star-making moments, carving out your own identity as an iconic Huskies player is harder as each generation of UConn competitors moves through.

Especially because the past icons stay so current. The stars of the 1994-95 team, Rebecca Lobo and Jen Rizzotti, are a television broadcaster and the Hartford women's head coach, respectively. They haven't ridden off into the sunset, and their sport-changing perfect season 15 years ago isn't some hazy memory.

We still see the faces that defined that team -- Lobo, Rizzotti and, of course, coach Geno Auriemma -- all the time.

Nykesha Sales, whose senior year of 1998 was plagued by a heart-wrenching Achilles tendon injury and an absurd "controversy" over the school scoring record, is not so visible but very well-remembered by all who follow the game.

Sue Bird, the brainy and much-worshipped point guard, just finished her WNBA season in Seattle as a champion, along with former UConn teammates Swin Cash and Svetlana Abrosimova, extremely popular themselves.

Diana Taurasi is regarded as the best Huskies player of all, a mix of swagger and sensational talent that has captivated college, international and WNBA spectators for a decade now.

Tina Charles, the gradually developing post player who blossomed to full flower her junior and senior seasons in Storrs, was the WNBA's top draft pick in April, then was named the league's rookie of the year at this summer's end.

Which brings us to Moore, who put on the UConn jersey for the first time already with an avalanche of accolades. The projections were unrealistic, really. She was supposed to be nothing short of remarkable, every single game.

If that's the baseline expectation, how can you possibly meet it, let alone exceed it?

And yet, as we honor UConn's astonishing team accomplishment Tuesday -- 89 victories in a row and counting -- we have to say it: Maya Moore has been all she was supposed to be, and then some.

"Every night when you need her to be at her best, she's her best," Auriemma said when the Huskies' 93-62 victory against Florida State concluded. "I'm going to remember that forever."

It might seem that focusing on one player on a night of such an immense team/program accomplishment is counterintuitive. Especially because junior Tiffany Hayes shouldn't be short-changed. She was an important part of all 89 games, too.

Maya Moore was already a great player before 2010-11 began. She had two NCAA titles and two perfect seasons. But since her senor campaign started, she has become greater.

But there is zero doubt that this streak wouldn't have happened without Moore, and in this way, she has separated herself in UConn and women's basketball lore in a way that will be hellaciously
hard -- maybe impossible? -- to ever match.

And for Moore to break her personal scoring record on the same night the Huskies hit 89 is the kind of thing you could never even dream of scripting, because the timing of it is too fantastically and wonderfully epic.

But Moore's 41 points were not, of course, the sum total of her contribution against the Seminoles. Scoring never has been. If that was all Moore was supposed to do at UConn, she likely would have had a few 60-point games by now.

She came to UConn to become the complete package as a player, just as the legends who preceded her did. Moore arrived at the college level already capable of great things, but aware the bar would just keep rising for her. That was what she wanted, like a high jumper who somehow keeps finding more spring in her step each time she has cleared a new height.

The 10 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 blocked shots Tuesday were statistical proof of her omnipresence on court. But your eyes, without even seeing a stat sheet, would tell you that.

Still … 41 points on this night? That's Taurasi-like in dramatic flourish, a performance akin to the loudest, boldest crash of cymbals during the finest orchestra's performance.

To witness Moore's career is to see another leg being run in a superb relay race. Lobo and Rizzotti took a handoff, if you will, from Kerry Bascom, the All-American who led UConn to its first Final Four in 1991.

The 1994-95 team cemented a love affair between the state and UConn's women's basketball program, a relationship that has stayed constant in its devotion and intensity. For good reason: The Huskies have given their fans many, many reasons to love them.

UConn's run from 2000 to 2004 -- winning four of five NCAA titles in that span -- upped an ante that was already large. During that time, the Huskies had individual players so accomplished and adored, it was hard to see how anyone else -- no matter how phenomenal she was -- could come along after that and sculpt a legend as big.

Especially, as mentioned, since the "old" stars just kept producing new hits. Taurasi won WNBA titles with Phoenix in 2007 and '09. Cash won two with Detroit in '03 and '06. Bird won in '04, then followed with another WNBA championship this year along with Cash and Abrosimova for the Storm. And no sooner had they clinched that trophy in September than they were on a plane headed to the Czech Republic for the FIBA Women's World Championship.

It was a UConn reunion there: a U.S. team coached by Auriemma with Bird, Cash, Taurasi, Charles, Moore and Asjha Jones playing, while Abrosimova competed for Russia.

The only one who had to do schoolwork on the trip, though, was Moore. An outstanding student, she kept up with all her UConn assignments while spending the early part of her senior year of college winning a world championship gold medal.

At the time, Moore chuckled when asked then about how she had to have her nose in a book while everyone else could relax a bit between games. She expressed her sorrow that UConn teammate Caroline Doty would not be able to play this season because of a knee injury.

And she spoke about the importance of not trying to do too much all by herself once the Huskies started play, because that was "dangerous," in her view.

"You have to be careful with that," Moore said back in October. "I've never been part of a team where it was really successful with it all being on one player's shoulders. To have my team be better, I have to individually get better, and they all have to do that as well.

"I have to challenge my teammates to improve, because that's what the great players do."

Moore was already a great player before 2010-11 began. She had two NCAA titles and two perfect seasons. But since her senior campaign started, she has become greater. Her scoring and defense were instrumental in helping the Huskies survive their closest call yet during this streak: a one-point victory Nov. 16 against Baylor. She has become the program's all-time scoring leader.

And now she has something else that sets her apart from even the brightest of the previous UConn stars: 89 wins in a row, and still going.

On court at a thunderously loud XL Center on Tuesday, another victory just concluded, Moore spoke, as always, with graciousness.

"We're standing on their shoulders," she said of the past Huskies. "They're just as much a part of what's going on today as anybody."

An admirable, totally expected bouquet to those who thrilled the UConn faithful before she did. Of course she would say that.

But we'll say this: The streak -- this bit of unforgettable, gilded history -- will always belong to one player more than any other. Moore came to UConn with a world of expectations. Over and over and over, she has done nothing but deliver.

Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com. Read her blog at http://voepel.wordpress.com.

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.