Commentary

Moore blends in with Team USA

College senior, five former Huskies help give national team a UConn flavor

Originally Published: July 10, 2010
By Justin Verrier | ESPN.com

UNCASVILLE, Conn. -- At this point, Maya Moore is quite comfortable in red, white and blue.

Not only has she spent a fair amount of time running up and down the court in practice this spring with the U.S. national team, but it's the same color scheme she has draped herself in for more than 100 games playing at UConn.

The biggest difference Saturday in her first live competition playing for Team USA was being the last player off the team's 11-person bench.

[+] EnlargeMaya Moore
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/ Getty ImagesMaya Moore shot 6-for-13, with 12 points, eight rebounds, five assists, three steals and four turnovers in 22 minutes.

Moore, the 2009 college player of the year and the only college player picked to represent the United States this fall in the World Championship, said she'd never been the last player off the bench, not even as far back as elementary school.

Even sixth man took some deep thought.

"Woo," Moore said as she searched deep into her memory bank. "Probably … seventh, eighth grade?"

But it took nearly eight minutes before she checked into the Stars at the Sun competition Saturday against the WNBA All-Stars at the Mohegan Sun Arena.

Geno Auriemma, Moore's coach in college and now for her first jaunt into international play, said he didn't have any plan scheduled for Moore's playing time. But there was one rule set before the game, one he wasn't willing to break, even for his star player: She was going to have to earn her spot.

"I just knew she wasn't going to start, and I knew I would sub everyone else in before her," Auriemma said. "[The rest of the team] deserved it. They earned it."

Although Moore looked the part of a Team USA member early on, running the break with poise and dishing to her teammates like an established vet, she missed her first four shots from the field.

"She played, in that first half, like a college kid," Auriemma said. "Didn't look like she had her legs, didn't look like she was comfortable yet."

Nerves weren't an issue, Moore said. But she was well aware of how many shots hadn't fallen.

When she finally did break through with 6 minutes, 31 seconds left in the third quarter with an up-and-under scoop shot -- the same go-to shot that has foiled countless college defenders in three years with the Huskies -- Moore let her age show just a little bit, giving a small pump of her fist.

"And it was kind of a tough shot," Moore joked. "I didn't want to blow a layup, either. That's the worst."

Moore settled in thereafter, finishing with 12 points, five assists and team highs in rebounds (eight, tying teammates Sylvia Fowles and Candice Dupree), steals (three, tying Angel McCoughtry) and turnovers (four) in 22 minutes.

"A lot of us know each other's game," said USA teammate and former Huskies All-American Swin Cash, who finished with 13 points. "That feel early on takes some getting used to. But when she just started doing what she does best, being aggressive and attacking and getting to the glass, that's when she was in a real comfort zone."

[+] EnlargeRenee Montgomery and Maya Moore and Swin Cash
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty ImagesMaya Moore (No. 14) was one of six UConn players on Team USA's roster, including Renee Montgomery (left) and Swin Cash (right).

Said Sue Bird: "When she settled down, she did what she always does: make plays."

Even though Moore hoisted a team-high 13 shots from the floor, her performance was a far cry from the jaw-dropping displays Connecticut fans are used to. More than anything, she just blended in with the rest of the team. Which, for Moore, might be even more rewarding.

"The great thing about our team is that you can't tell who the college kid is," Auriemma said. "If you line up all of our players and say pick the one in college, you can never figure it out. She blends right in, she plays like them, she handles herself like them. It was a great way for her to get started today."

For Moore, fitting in isn't too difficult. Not with her college head coach pointing her in the right direction and with five of the other 10 players on the USA sideline repping UConn as their alma mater -- including two (Renee Montgomery and Tina Charles) with whom Moore has played alongside in college. But it didn't take much for the other former Huskies to get accustomed to her, either.

Knowledge of Auriemma's system surely didn't hurt. The coach and several other Team USA players marveled at their ball movement, pointing to the team's 32 assists (as opposed to the WNBA All-Stars' 11) as evidence of the synergy amongst the team.

But they were also just as quick to note that it wasn't a UConn-only affair.

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"I don't look at Tamika Catchings and think Tennessee. I look at her and see Tamika Catchings," Bird said. "I don't think anyone in our locker room is looking around and thinking about how there's six UConn players.

"We don't talk about that. We don't think about it. We're just players at this point."

Still, when Bird looks around the court and sees so many familiar faces, she can't help but feel a small sense of pride.

"It's no secret that UConn players do well in the WNBA and that they have success," she said. "It must come from somewhere."

Saturday was a reminder that the well isn't ready to dry up anytime soon.

"It's the same pedigree," Diana Taurasi said. "It's the type of player Coach likes bringing in. It's the people who never say die, really. Maya was bringing energy, and that's what you need on Team USA. That's what produces wins."

But despite showing she can hold her own with some of the WNBA's best, the transition to the pros is still a year away.

"Her story is still yet to be said," Cash said. "You shouldn't watch to say Maya's this or Maya's that. Everyone's trying to make her a pro already. But let her enjoy her senior year and this experience. Then she'll do what she has to do."

Justin Verrier is an NBA editor for ESPN.com. E-mail him at Justin.R.Verrier@ESPN.com

Justin Verrier is an NBA editor at ESPN.com.

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