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But the 2010-11 Huskies are up against it (at least for them) with a mere five returning players and five freshmen. The only true center, for example, is 6-3 junior Heather Buck, an outstanding state high school player at Stonington High, who sat out her freshman year as a medical redshirt and had no impact last season, when she averaged only six minutes a game playing behind Tina Charles.
The unfortunate loss of junior Carolyn Doty, who suffered her second ACL injury over the summer, leaves further question marks. Doty’s 136 assists were second only to Moore’s team-leading 150.
Several blue-chip freshmen, such as 6-1 guard Samarie Walker, from Ohio, and 6-5 center Stefanie Dolson and 5-10 guard Bria Hartley, both from New York, should contribute immediately. But Moore, who last year averaged a team-high 18.9 points and 8.3 rebounds a game, will have the proverbial bull’s-eye on the back of her uniform.
Auriemma says he will approach Moore’s role the way he did Taurasi and her team in 2004. “She has to understand that it’s not her against the world—and I’m not going to make it all about her,” he says. But, he points out, Moore is a different player than Taurasi. In some ways she’s more talented—she can play all five positions and her defense is tougher. Yet in other ways, she’s less aggressive and takes fewer risks on the court, whereas Taurasi knew no boundaries.
“Diana would take the basketball and either score or do what she could to help another player to score,” says Auriemma, who doesn’t especially like being asked to compare the two players. “The challenge will be to find another player to get Maya the ball in the right spot at the right time. We’ll have to be creative about designing plays for her.”
Moore will need to improve in several areas for the Huskies to continue their record run, Auriemma says, but these changes will be subtle. He looks for her to make mental adjustments so she learns when—and when not—to do something, such as moving without the ball. She will also be called upon more than ever to defend the most talented player on the opposing team.
Moore already has extraordinary skills for her level. “One of her biggest strengths is that she knows where she needs to be when a play needs to be made—and that’s so important,” Auriemma says. “The only way to become a great player is to be in position to do the great thing. She may make a cut that isn’t perfect but that cut will get her to the basketball or to get a rebound.”
But her high standards can be problematic.
“Because she’s a perfectionist, everything has to be exactly right all the time,” Auriemma says. “I’ve tried to teach her to be more of a risk-taker but when you’re a perfectionist, you won’t take risks because you’re afraid to fail.” He’d like her to get to the foul line more often, for example, but that means a more aggressive inside game. Too often, she settles for a jump shot instead of putting the ball on the floor and going to the hoop and getting fouled, he says.
This will be particularly important this season because there are questions about the Huskies’ inside game. During Moore’s first three years, she averaged just over three free throws a game. Team leaders, especially inside players, usually average more than that.
Moore knows this is a weakness in her game. “I need to work on getting to the free-throw line more, and knowing what situations I need to put myself in to get fouled,” she says. “But there’s a difference between thinking about something and just letting it come naturally.”
Auriemma also wants Moore to attempt more steals but this, too, is a risky proposition because she could foul someone or end up out of position. In her first three years, she averaged slightly less than two steals a game, but toward the end of last season she picked up the pace. A master at telling players what they don’t want to hear, the coach is working his “charm” on Moore. “He’s not afraid of challenging me,” she says. “He’s always pushing me to make that cut better—that kind of thing. I can do a drill great 98 times but it’s the two times it’s not great he’ll focus on.”
Her leadership style will also be different from that of past UConn captains.
Taciturn by nature, Moore won’t adopt the aggressive, hectoring style of Renee Montgomery or Taurasi, or of Jennifer Rizzotti and Jamelle Elliott, who took over at the dawn of UConn’s supremacy in the sport. More like Sue Bird, she will let her playing speak for itself rather than be a cheerleader for her teammates.
“I’ll lead by example and speak when necessary,” she says. “I like to clap and encourage teammates, but not with in-your-face fierceness.”
Auriemma agrees. “Maya is not verbal by nature. It’s hard for her to be that way. When you’re on the court, if you’re not naturally demonstrative, you lead by example, he says. “When we need her, she’s a leader.”