UConn coach Geno Auriemma says star forward Maya Moore operates on two levels. The first is when she's in the "complete zone" and every shot the 6-foot forward takes goes in. The second? "It's when she wants to get it done so bad, she almost is her own worst enemy," he says of the (admittedly rare) occasions the three-time All-America and 2009 player of the year has appeared to lack patience on the court. Moore's teams have gone 114--2 and won two national titles over the last three seasons, including the inelegant 53--47 title-game victory over Stanford on April 6 in San Antonio that pushed the Huskies' record winning streak to 78. In that game UConn trailed 20--12 at the break before Moore scored 11 points during a 17--2 run to open the second half. She finished with 23 points and was named the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament.
But this success while playing with 2010 player of the year Tina Charles, whose 18.2 points and 9.5 rebounds are now property of the WNBA's Connecticut Sun, the team that drafted the 6'4" senior center last Thursday with the top overall pick. Fifth-year senior forward Kalana Greene will also move on to the pros. How long the Huskies' unprecedented run continues will depend largely on Moore.
Auriemma has often said that former UConn star Diana Taurasi's senior season, in 2003--04, was the most difficult for any player he has coached because of the mental strain she felt nightly from having to carry a team that didn't have top-tier talent. Next season Moore will face a similar challenge. "For the first time in her college career, Maya will be the older leader and not have a lot of help—and that's going to really take its toll," Auriemma said.
UConn still has enough weapons to be SI's pick as the top 2010--11 team—starting guards Caroline Doty (6.8 points) and Tiffany Hayes (10.2) return as juniors, and the Huskies will add three McDonald's All-Americans with 5'10" point guard Bria Hartley, 6'1" forward Samarie Walker and 6'5" center Stefanie Dolson—but they have no ready-made replacement for Charles, UConn's career leader in scoring (2,346) and rebounding (1,367). "I'm going to miss Tina and Kalana, but they've been a great example for me," says Moore, referring to their work ethic and leadership skills. "I won't let them down."
Next season UConn will play one of the toughest nonconference schedules in the country, with games against Baylor, Duke, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Stanford. Auriemma joked at the Final Four that he would quit on the spot if his team was undefeated on Feb. 1, 2011. What he didn't joke about was preparing Moore for the road ahead. "We've talked about it, and that's my job, to get her ready for it," Auriemma said. "People are going to expect us to win a national championship because we've got Maya Moore. And I would say, 'Good. So do I.'"
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Here's an early look at the teams with the best shots of toppling UConn:
After setting the NCAA record for blocks (223) as a freshman, 6'8" center Brittney Griner (below) will be joined by Odyssey Sims, the top high school point guard.
Nnemkadi Ogwumike, the 6'2" forward who scored 38 against Oklahoma in the semifinals, will welcome younger sister Chiney, the top overall recruit.
All five starters return, along with 6'4" center Vicki Baugh, who sat out this year with a left ACL injury.
The Muskies get five of their top seven scorers back, including senior posts Amber Harris (16.1 points) and Ta'Shia Phillips (13.9).
5. Texas A&M
Four starters return for the Aggies, including center Danielle Adams (16.3 points), and they add 6'5" center Kara Gilbert.
Photograph by BILL FRAKES
FOCAL POINT With Charles (31) and Greene (32) gone, Moore carries the burden of high expectations.
Photograph by BILL FRAKES