Moore, Charles push UConn past Baylor
Huskies duo combines for 55 of UConn's 70 points, all but five of team's 28 field goals
SAN ANTONIO -- It was pretty much another edition of Maya Moore's greatest "hits." Watch her hit turnaround jumpers. Watch her hit contested layups. Watch her hit 3-pointers that barely touch the twine. Watch her hit the boards, too, pulling them down even when surrounded by as many as three players.
Connecticut advanced to its second consecutive NCAA title game with a 70-50 victory over Baylor that had its moments of well, if not heart-pounding drama, at least some anxiety for the still-perfect Huskies.
Baylor did get as close as within three points of UConn about five minutes into the second half. The non-blue portion of the Alamodome's 25,817 fans was trying to push a young Baylor team toward what would have been a monumental upset.
But Moore was there to push the underdogs right back into reality. She finished with 34 points and 12 rebounds, showing that the second consecutive Wade Trophy she picked up Saturday indeed went to a good home.
"National players of the year -- they don't get rattled," Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. "They get the big offensive, timely rebounds. And she did."
She did that, and a whole bunch of other stuff, too. Moore and teammate Tina Charles actually shared the player of the year honors that were presented here in the Alamo City, as Charles took the Associated Press award.
On Sunday, it looked as if that was a pretty fair split of hardware, as Charles did her part, too, with 21 points and 13 rebounds against Baylor's impressive rookie center, Brittney Griner.
"These two players up here were just absolutely amazing," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said after the game, gesturing toward Moore and Charles. "Because they had to do it all by themselves, pretty much.
"I can't say enough about them, especially in the second half when Baylor cut it to whatever they cut it to. I forget what it was."
It was, um, Diana Taurasi's jersey number, Coach: three.
"Closer than I thought," Auriemma joked. "So we had a chance to respond, and we haven't had a chance to do that very often this year. I'm glad everybody got a chance to see what these players are capable of doing when they're pushed."
What Moore and Charles -- and, really, everyone who has played for Auriemma -- often say is that they are put in impossible or near-impossible situations in practice. Players' wills are tested with things like 5-on-8 scenarios, can't-win dilemmas in which the whole point is that the Huskies learn to believe there's no such thing as "can't-win."
Even so, it's still a different thing when you're doing that in the still-controlled environment of practice. To do it on the biggest stage in the next-to-last step before finishing a potential second consecutive undefeated season? That's big-time.
Admittedly, the final margin was 20. But to suggest that Baylor really didn't push the Huskies all that hard is to greatly underestimate and undervalue the tenacity of UConn. Even when the Huskies make things look easy, that doesn't mean they really are easy. And on Sunday, it didn't look easy.
"I hope [Stanford] is as tired as we are tonight," Auriemma said. "I know my guys are tired."
Baylor was even wearier, though, especially after chasing Moore and Charles the whole game.
"Their two All-Americans scored all but 15 of their points," Mulkey said. "That's a junior and senior for Connecticut that we had freshmen guarding. Griner was guarding Tina Charles all night, and Shanay Washington, [Kimetria] Hayden and Jordan Madden took their shots at Maya Moore. Therein lies the difference in the game."
Moore, in particular, seemed to be the ultimate Baylor dream-crusher.
"Maya Moore, being the great player she is," said Baylor senior Morghan Medlock, "she did what she does best. And that's take over."
It was necessary on a night when another of the challenges UConn faced was getting so little offense from its backcourt. Tiffany Hayes and Caroline Doty were a combined 1-of-14 from the field, and both played the latter part of the second half with four fouls.
Doty didn't score; Hayes added five free throws to her one basket for seven points. Kalana Greene made three of seven shots for six points. Kelly Faris came off the bench to help with six assists and four rebounds -- which really was a help -- but she didn't score, either.
It all turned out OK, though, because on this Easter Sunday, Moore did just about everything short of pulling a bunny out of a hat.
"I felt I had a mismatch most of the game; I was just trying to be aggressive," she said. "Probably the biggest and hardest area for me this year has been in the post. [Auriemma] constantly challenges me. It's more a mental thing, just to find different ways to score. Don't settle for the outside jumper. Post up. That's fun, when you can mix it up and score different ways."
Auriemma also credited Moore not just for her physical ability to carry such a load, but her constant mental recognition of everything that goes on around her.
"She has put a lot of time into reading defenses and made a couple of great cuts and read a couple of great screens," he said. "We ran a couple of things specifically for her after they got it to three. She made a couple of big buckets, and the kids on the bench were yelling, 'Great read, Maya!' I don't know that she would have been able to do that a couple of years ago."
It's what Mulkey hopes her freshmen will do in the future. They couldn't have gotten a much better lesson from a greater player than they did Sunday night.
Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at http://voepel.wordpress.com.
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