Commentary

Moore's hustle, skills leave us wanting more

Updated: March 26, 2008, 9:14 AM ET
By Mechelle Voepel | Special to ESPN.com

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. -- Of course, for UConn, this NCAA tournament is about "team" and trying to win another championship. But whether or not the Huskies do that, we already know they have something that's good for all of women's basketball.

That's freshman Maya Moore, who is one of those "you-gotta-see-her" players for this sport. Her 24 points and 12 rebounds led the Huskies' 89-55 victory against Texas in the second round, but her appeal is certainly not just predicated on such big numbers.

How she plays the game is just as important. And when she chased down Texas' Erneisha Bailey to block a shot Tuesday, that was indeed a statement about how Moore thinks the game is supposed to be played. You don't take plays off because you're winning big and a possession here or there really doesn't matter.

You go all-out all the time. Every coach wants players to do this. And fans watch games thinking, "If I was out there, I'd be busting my tail every second."

Except … it's really, really difficult to always do that. Coach Geno Auriemma tells his team the NCAA tournament is about winning every single possession. But you could be a really good competitor as a player and still think to yourself, "OK, seriously, do we need to win every possession? That's impossible. To do that, we'd have to win, like, 80-0."

It really is impossible to actually do it … but it's not impossible to want to try. When you combine that desire with phenomenal basketball skills, you have a player who can get people to tune in just to see her perform. And that's the type of player Moore is.

"I am fortunate in that every guy I run into in the airport says, 'Hey, aren't you the guy who coached Taurasi?'" Auriemma said of you-know-who, former UConn star Diana Taurasi, who led the Huskies to three consecutive NCAA titles from 2002-04. "I say, 'Yeah, I am.' Now I've got people texting me, saying, 'Is this kid Maya Moore as good as everybody says she is?' It's like, 'Yeah, she is. Tune in and watch.'"

Moore could have let Bailey go in Tuesday's game … and UConn would have won by 32 points instead of 34. Except that's not the way Moore plays.

"I think in order to separate yourself into being an elite player and a team," she said, "you have to make plays like that. I expect nothing less from myself."

Auriemma nodded when asked about this -- it's the attitude he wants a talented player like Tina Charles to have, too. He is trying to get Charles to more fully embrace the concept that you can do something to make a difference the entire time you are on the court. He sees that mentality continually from Moore and junior Renee Montgomery.

"I want Tina to watch Maya and Renee play and see how they impact the game in so many ways," Auriemma said.

It says something when you want a sophomore to emulate a freshman, doesn't it?

"The thing that makes her who she is and allows her to play the way she plays is that she wants to impact the game on every play," Auriemma continued, in regard to Moore. "And that's what great players do -- every possession."

But the other thing you notice about Moore is that she doesn't need to make sure everybody is noticing what she's doing. There's nothing about the way she carries herself that says, "Hey, everybody look at me, I'm the star here!"

"What I like about her is she does it in a way that makes you cheer for her," Auriemma said. "Some guys play the game and you kind of almost are like, 'Oh, come on.' But she plays in a way that her opponents respect her, her teammates respect her and everybody watching her play respects her. Because she just plays with such joy."

That's true, and when you mention that to Moore, she smiles with what seems like relief.

"That's good -- because sometimes people do make comments about how serious I look out on the court. But I'm definitely enjoying myself," she said. "I like to think I play with passion, and when we make a good play, I'm screaming and getting excited. I'm glad that fun shows, though, because I'm enjoying every minute of it."

Mechelle Voepel of The Kansas City Star is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. She can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com.

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

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