Maya Moore dominates in rout of Duke
PHILADELPHIA -- To know why Maya Moore is one of the greatest players in the game's long history, look no further than the statistical milestone she chased down during her time in Philadelphia.
No, not 3,000 career points, a mark Moore became one of just seven Division I women to reach when she hit a jumper with less than four minutes to play in Tuesday's regional final against Duke. That basket came with the game long since decided and the formality of time all that remained between Connecticut and an eventual 75-40 win against the Blue Devils, the second time this season the defending national champions dispatched the current ACC champions by at least 35 points.
In order to understand how Moore ensured that point No. 3,000 was merely a footnote, or perhaps an exclamation point, by single-handedly taking control of what was for a time a competitive game on her way to 28 points, 10 rebounds, seven steals and most outstanding player honors, another record offers a better telling of the story.
Consider the somewhat disputed, entirely unofficial, team paddleball record.
As the story goes, at some point during the team's stay in Philadelphia, sophomore Kelly Faris' mom gave her daughter a paddleball, partly in jest for a team that finds a way to compete at anything and everything, if also as a way to kill the tedious hours of hotel time that come during the postseason. Faris, Stefanie Dolson and Lauren Engeln promptly spent a good portion of an evening passing the paddleball, and the corresponding record for consecutive hits, back and forth. Welcome to Connecticut basketball.
But when the new toy made its way into wider circulation on the bus soon thereafter, Moore wanted to know why she hadn't been included in the initial record chase.
"We said that we didn't want to invite her the first night because she probably would have been up until 5 in the morning trying to break it," Faris said. "But she told us it wouldn't have taken her that long."
Based on how long it took her to break Duke's spirit, she was probably right.
With 92 seconds remaining in the first half, Connecticut held a modest 25-20 lead and Duke had life. Certainly, it did when compared to its pulse at the same stage of the game the teams played earlier this season, when the Huskies led 40-11 at the same point in time en route to a lopsided 87-51 win that effectively destroyed Duke's reputation as a contender.
But as the clock ticked down to 1:21 remaining in the half, Moore bailed out a Huskies possession that seemed headed nowhere -- a trend in the opening half -- with a 3-pointer, her first of the game, to push the lead to eight points. There it remained until she hit a baseline jumper as time expired in the half for a 30-20 lead.
"Going into halftime, especially if you have the ball and are able to kind of draw something up or get into the flow of something real quick to get that last basket, it's huge momentum," Faris said. "Whether you're down or you're up, I think for any player, if you hit that last-second shot, you always want the momentum going into halftime. So that was definitely huge for us."
Just to make sure the Blue Devils didn't forget the message during the ensuing intermission, she snatched away a pass from Haley Peters in the opening seconds of the second half -- a play that might be more accurately described as a repossession than a steal -- raced to the other end of the court, drew a third foul on Peters and hit both free throws.
Before the second half was even halfway over, Connecticut led 52-23, a 27-3 run from the time of Moore's 3-pointer to put the game on ice. And Moore, who narrowly escaped what might have been a costly third foul in the moments before she sparked the start of the run at the end of the first half, had turned in another of a seemingly endless parade of memorable performances.
She has the unique ability to do the same thing over and over and make it compelling every time. Even for those who see it on a daily basis.
"There's expectations because she brings it every single game, every single practice, and you know she's going to pull through no matter what," UConn guard Caroline Doty said. "But that's not to say I'm not in awe a majority of the game. Some of her plays -- some of the ways she gets open, some of her stops or how explosive she is or how she can pull up on the spot like that --- if you ever catch us on the sideline, we're like 'How did she do that?' So it's something you never really get used to, but it's something you definitely look forward to and you know it's going to come."
Geno Auriemma may have his moments with Moore, as he has with just about every player he pushed to be better. At one point in the first half, he broke out the parental warning sign of using both her first and last name while yelling at her to set a screen. He may sometimes (or most of the time) harp on her about defense. But neither defense nor offense was what sold him on Moore the first time he saw her play. Instead, it was something that he can't coach, just as Pat Summitt, Tara VanDerveer, Kim Mulkey and every other coach in the country can't coach if it isn't there.
It's that nothing matters more to her than winning. And when that's combined with the physical gifts to do something about it, the result is what transpired Tuesday.
"What's happened in the AAU world in the last 10 years or so is kids don't play to win," Auriemma said the week of the first Duke game this season. "They just play to play. They show up at a tournament on Friday night, they play a couple of games. They show up Saturday and play four or five games. They show up Sunday, they play all morning and then they leave. And they go, 'Let's do it again next weekend.' And the difference when you watched Maya play is Maya played to win every game -- she tried to win every possession. And it sticks out so obviously because everybody else is just running up and down, waiting for Sunday so they can go in their minivan and stop at McDonald's and go home.
"And she never played like that."
It doesn't matter if she's playing her teammates in practice, Holy Cross in the first game of the season or Duke in an NCAA tournament regional final -- or if she's chasing the team paddleball record. Moore is going to be Moore.
"Whether it's with that, just something silly like that, you know that her heart's in the right place, and she's very committed to whatever she does," Doty said. "And if she can't do something, she's going to work as hard as she can to do it."
As is her penchant, Moore framed the paddleball story in a collective way, noting how competitive every Connecticut player is, including Bria Hartley, who seemed the widespread, if not unanimous, choice as the current record holder.
But don't think for a second that record isn't something the best player in basketball wants and wants now.
"Of course, I just haven't had a chance," Moore said.
That's the thing about Moore; the only records that motivate her are the ones she doesn't have yet.
Graham Hays is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. E-mail him at Graham.Hays@espn3.com.