Moore, Charles lead UConn to Final Four
UConn's biggest stars shine brightest in win over FSU
DAYTON, Ohio -- All it took was 11 seconds.
No. 1 seed Connecticut and No. 3 seed Florida State went through the formality of playing Tuesday's NCAA tournament regional final at the University of Dayton. And for a half, it even felt a little like a basketball game. Down by double digits early, Florida State rallied to close within four points at the halfway mark of the opening period. Even the underdog's 14-point halftime deficit felt like a pittance compared to leads double or almost triple that for the Huskies at halftime in the first three rounds.
The tension wasn't exactly thick, but it was something nonetheless.
At which point the Huskies inbounded the ball to start the second half, fed it to Tina Charles on the low block and watched as she threaded a backdoor pass to Maya Moore for a layup and a three-point play when Florida State's Angel Gray, one of college basketball's best one-on-one defenders, collided with her in futile late pursuit. A sequence that spanned the opening 11 seconds of the second half.
By the end of another dominant half of basketball -- albeit the second half for a change -- Connecticut had a 90-50 win and a place opposite Baylor in the Final Four. Saddled with early foul trouble, Moore still dominated the opening minutes of each half on her way to 22 points and eight rebounds, and Charles -- with 20 points, 14 rebounds, four blocks and three assists -- took care of the rest.
And if you think you're tired of hearing about Charles, Moore and the unending wonder of all things Connecticut after 76 wins in a row, try playing the Huskies.
"Maya had 22 points in 20 minutes," Florida State coach Sue Semrau lamented. "I thought we had a good chance in the first half getting her in foul trouble, but Tina just took over. They are not only two great players, but two great players that have worked extremely hard and improved their games. Geno [Auriemma] doesn't just get great players, roll out the ball and let them play. He puts them in the position where he coaches them up, develops them and helps them understand their roles.
"It's unique to be able to do that with great athletes."
A large part of what makes the Huskies not just great but among the greatest of all time is that they are so much more than just their two best players, a point Auriemma emphasized after the win. So it was that Tiffany Hayes set the screen on Gray that freed Moore for her basket to open the second half, one of the plays that didn't show up in a box score still stuffed with 13 points, seven assists and five rebounds.
All that paired with the Huskies' defense -- the entire rotating quintet -- that held Florida State to 28 percent shooting and forced 17 turnovers.
But it's also the partnership between Moore and Charles that teamed up on that particular play and took turns leading the way for most of the rest of the night.
"They are who they are and can do what they do," Auriemma said. "We're fortunate, because if both of them have it going, we're going to win."
That formula seemed in jeopardy early. Moore scored 11 points in seven minutes to start the game, continuing a torrid postseason in which she's hitting 63.8 percent of her shots. But she also picked up two early fouls for the second game in a row, this time earning the second on a needless challenge for an offensive rebound even she wasn't going to get. So Moore sat, and the Seminoles slowly started to pick away at a hurried Huskies offense. Until, as Auriemma noted, Connecticut made a commitment to getting Charles the ball on every trip down the court. Charles didn't have a point when Moore went out of the game, but by the end of the half -- battling two post players her size or bigger in Jacinta Monroe and Cierra Bravard -- she had 16 points and 11 boards.
"She's one of our emotional leaders," Moore said. "And when Tina Charles comes in with that mindset and dominated the way that she does and continues to work hard, it forces everybody else to rise. And if she doesn't get established, that's a big part of our team missing. That's why I think she's come through for us every game of the season, because she realizes how big she is for us. I have no doubt she's going to come in and contribute somehow, and most of the time, it's by getting points in the paint."
Connecticut has a long history of strong tandems, something associate coach Chris Dailey brought up this past weekend in listing Charles and Moore alongside some of the most famous partnerships. But as she noted Tuesday night, they are unique in at least one way in that neither plays a position that places the ball in their hands a majority of the time. They are go-to players in the literal sense: The Huskies have to go to them. And that creates demands of its own.
"I think it's an understanding of what your strengths are and playing to your strengths," Dailey said after Tuesday's win. "Neither one of them has the strong personality of [Rebecca Lobo and Pam Webber or Jennifer Rizzotti and Jamelle Elliott], as vocal, as outgoing as all of them. So that's kind of an enigma as well because neither one of them -- Maya leads by example, Tina has evolved into more of a leader. But that wasn't something they had to do their first few years together. They were able just to play, which probably allowed them to develop and progress the way they have."
Now Charles and Moore, roommates in an apartment near campus, lead a team to San Antonio with a chance -- with the expectation, honestly -- of joining the greatest teams of all time. A label they already merit as a duo.
"I think we complement each other very well," Moore said. "I think we both want the same thing. We have, I think, that mindset of domination, just in different ways. She has gift and talents and expectations as a center, and I have expectations and challenges as a guard-forward. So we complement each other very well. If I want to be good, I have to be able to make her look good. And if she wants to look good, she has to be able to make me look good. So it works really well."
And as critics continue the debate over whether or not Connecticut is good for the present and future of women's basketball, a lot of people will sit back and savor something that can last for no more than two games.
Of course, as they showed Tuesday night, Charles and Moore only need 11 seconds to make it clear why they are who they are.
"Honestly, when you're just sitting there watching it, sometimes you really are just amazed," Huskies reserve guard Lorin Dixon said. "And we laugh and we joke, and it's just like any given moment Tina could go on a 16-point thing by herself, and then the next 20 minutes, Maya's going on a 20-point spree. It's fun, honestly, sitting back watching them just play, because they're two really great players."
Graham Hays is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. E-mail him at Graham.Hays@espn3.com.