Moriah Jefferson. The Magic One.
ALBANY, NEW YORK: If she had a wand, she could be described as either a magician or an orchestra leader and she would perform on the highest stage in the land.
Harry Potter or Glenn Miller could learn a thing or two from Moriah Jefferson who is firmly and magically in control of the offensive juggernaut that is the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team, the one that is now just three wins away from bringing home its 10th national championship.
Its that close thanks to an astonishing 105-54 (yes that was the final score) Sweet 16 win over a University of Texas team that had no idea what hit them.
Jefferson, who was born and raised in Texas, was recruited by the Longhorns before deciding on Connecticut (much to the chagrin of Texas head coach Karen Aston), has taken her game to the outer reaches of the basketball universe these past few months and if it is possible, may be getting better.
Was there something special about playing against a team from her home state on such a bid stage?
Maybe a little.
“Whenever you get to play with players you played with in high school or against in AAU it’s special,” Jefferson said. “But for me, I just wanted to focus on the Tournament time, Sweet 16 so you have to come out and have a big game.”
All Jefferson did on Saturday at noon was go off for 25 points on 10 of 12 shooting, three of four from downtown. Add six assists, three steals, four rebounds (three offensive) in 34 minutes of play.
“It’s so much fun to play with her,” Breanna Stewart (who visited space herself with 31 points) said. “Especially when her confidence is as high like it is right now and for a majority of the season. She’s not afraid to take open shots or to take contested shots because she knows she’ll make them. When you have a point guard like that who is aggressive and confident in themselves, it’s a lot of fun to be out there with her.”
There was a time that the opposing team was not afraid of letting the UConn point guard beat them, her outside shot was at times an adventure a year ago but it has drastically improved between her sophomore and junior campaigns. Did she realize how teams viewed her a year ago?
“Obviously I’m aware of it,” Jefferson said. “Teams have done it over my years here at UConn. I just want to make it that we are never playing four on five by taking me out of the game so I have to step up and make big shots. My teammates do a good job of getting me the ball when I’m open.”
What she has done is not lost on the guy in charge.
“To see what you saw Moriah do today,” head coach Geno Auriemma said. “She’s come a long way in two years and I couldn’t be happier for these guys.”
Every game now, it seems, there is a Jefferson moment and Saturday against the seventh-ranked Longhorns, a team that came in with some serious frontcourt height, the moment involved a move to the basket in more traffic than a Manhattan rush hour that ended with a left-handed layup that left you shaking your head.
The Huskies game plan against Texas was a simple one. The Longhorns height versus the Huskies speed and ten minutes in, it was obvious that the pace of the game favored the team that lives to run and runs to live.
“Mo’s in charge of that,” Auriemma said. “She’s got her hands firmly on the wheel man and things are going exactly the way she wants it to go. She’s confident and didn’t even look like she broke a sweat today. And she’s out there, she played another 40 minutes today. She’s become quite the player, now that she can hit the three point shot. Making shots is huge for a guard. I say that to our guards all the time. If you can’t consistently take shots and knock down three’s you can’t be a high level player anymore in college basketball.”
Remember, this was a 17-12 game with 12:29 to go in the first half before the afterburners went on, and a 35-12 run put it out of reach just like that.
Up 52-24 at the half, the Huskies came out in the second half and played some of the best basketball you will ever see on the college level. The run started with a long three-ball by their astounding point guard who all of Connecticut can thank the great state of Texas for sending their way.