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By all accounts, the 2003-04 UConn women’s basketball season was supposed to be a “down” year, and on paper, there was plenty to support that perception. The four seniors—Sue Bird, Aija Jones, Tamika Williams and Swin Cash—who had carried the Huskies to three national championships had graduated and were embarking on what would become highly successful WNBA and European careers.
That left the lone All-America, senior Diana Taurasi, and a supporting cast of solid but hardly elite players. But despite exhaustion, injuries and the weight of expectations on her shoulders, Taurasi led her team to its third straight national championship, polishing it off with a 71-60 defeat of nemesis Tennessee in New Orleans.
This year the scenario is similar. Although the surrounding players may be more talented, once again the burden of securing a third straight national championship will fall largely on the shoulders of a single player: 6-foot senior Maya Moore.
Moore is a young woman with one foot in the past tradition of her team and one foot in a future with so many possibilities it’s almost frightening.
From late summer into fall, for instance, Moore was a member of the U.S. National Team, playing with and against the best athletes in the world, culminating with a gold medal at the 2010 FIBA World Basketball Games in Czechoslovakia. Moore was the only collegian on the 12-person roster, pared down from an original 24, but, under the eye of her UConn coach Geno Auriemma, she held her own among far more experienced professional players and played in all nine tournament games.
Overall, she was seventh on the team in scoring (8.7 points per game) and fifth in average rebounds (3.3). If she continues to play well and avoids injury, she has a great chance of making the trip to London with the 2012 Olympic team.
But now that the days of international play are over for a while, Moore is ready to turn her attention to the Huskies and the work ahead. She does so with her usual determination.
“This year is going to be the toughest season in my career, but I can’t overthink it,” she says. “I’ll handle it as best I can and I’ll listen to Coach.”
She’ll also listen to Taurasi, who gave her some valuable advice over the summer when the two played together. The key is “to stay focused and not worry about outside distractions when things get tough,” Taurasi says she told Moore. Taurasi also told her she must rely on her teammates: “I had Morgan [Valley] and Maria [Conlin] that they helped me a lot through tough times.”
This season, Moore and the team will be tested early and often. UConn’s early schedule called for Baylor (Nov. 16), with arguably the second best player in the country in 6-8 Britteny Griner, and then Ohio State Dec. 19. Later in the season they face perennial Top 10 teams Duke, on Jan. 31, and Oklahoma, Feb. 14. Also on the line this season is the chance to break the UCLA men’s basketball team’s record of 88 straight wins from 1971 to early 1974. UConn entered the 2010-11 season with 78 straight wins (two undefeated seasons of 39 victories each); a Dec. 21 game with Florida State could be No. 89. And then on Dec. 30 comes Stanford, which returns many of the players who gave the Huskies such a hard time in last year’s NCAA final. (Check uconn.cpbn.org for games to be broadcast on CPTV.)