The easiest way to stop UConn's Maya Moore: keep her on the bench waving towels in foul trouble.
When I sat down to write an analysis of UConn's 87-51 win over Duke yesterday, I somehow found myself writing paragraph after gushing paragraph about forward Maya Moore.
So I thought to myself, I should probably cut the 800 words about Moore as that's really not the point.
Then again, if one player inspires me to write that much about one performance without any quotes pretty much off the top of my head, maybe she is the point (or maybe I'm just way too obsessed with basketball, which I won't object to).
I wasn't necessarily focused exclusively on Moore until I sat down to write, but I guess what made her performance so striking for me on Monday night is that I was holding her to mortal standards.
For some reason I thought that a 6'0" forward might struggle playing more of a post role in a team's offense. Of course, "struggle" is relative but I didn't expect the dominance to just continue unfettered.
That, I wrongly assumed, would just defy basketball common sense.
Maybe Moore's individual performance against Duke didn't seem that extraordinary for UConn season ticket holders or those able to watch every game. But for someone who only checks in on UConn for the occasional nationally televised contest it was sort of, well, surreal.
I just don't really have a better word to describe the feeling as I watched her play. But I think it starts to become clear why I was so awestruck when looking back on her performance as a whole.
For starters, it was hard to ignore that Moore was an absolute terror no matter where she was on the court against Duke.
She was as decisive as any player I've seen on the block, showing the ability to not only quickly get her shot up but draw contact and finish as though it never occurred to her that she couldn't play the post. Obviously, she's not the type of player that's going to establish position, create a wide target, and drop step you to death; instead, she just beats her defender to the spot she decides it's best to beat her from and scores.
Granted some credit - a lot of credit, really - is due to her teammates who found her the moment she got open so she could score, but it's worth taking a few moments to appreciate just how high Moore's basketball IQ is to drop 29 points on one of the best teams in the country playing "out of position" (as if positions matter to her on a basketball court).
Last season before the NCAA championship against Stanford, I wrote that Moore was good enough as a playmaker last season to start at point guard for a majority of the teams in the NCAA tournament. I'll maintain that now after seeing her post an assist ratio of 24.33% compared to a turnover ratio of 10.43% for a pure point rating of 4.76, which are elite college point guard numbers in a game against Jasmine Thomas who most people would consider an elite point guard.
After Monday's game, I'll simply add to that - if Alysha Clark could play post for a tournament team and lead the nation in scoring standing somewhere around 5'10", why should we ever have believed that Maya Moore couldn't start for the vast majority of NCAA tournament teams as a post player? Against Duke, she had a game-high 6 offensive rebounds (19% offensive rebounding percentage) playing inside against a Duke team that entered the game with a 12% offensive rebounding differential, which is very good. Plus Moore can hit mid-range jumpers, pass out of the post, and pass on the fast break as your "post" player.
Of course, playing the post more often will be a challenge defensively for UConn at some point, but let's be honest: Duke never found an answer for her. Anywhere. No matter who guarded her. And just like when people question whether the Huskies will get tired, what makes anyone believe that Moore wouldn't step up to the challenge of being among the best post players in the nation?
And I would be remiss to leave out that in addition to creating an assist on 24% of plays she made, she used nearly 30% of the team's possessions while on the floor, yet also had an outstanding true shooting percentage of 77.29% in shooting 11-for-17 shooting from the field, 3-for-4 from the three point line, 4-for-4 from the free throw line.
You're not necessarily supposed to be that efficient while using a nearly third of a team's plays. For most normal human beings, the efficiency drops as they use more plays.
The rules just don't seem to apply to Moore.
But again, for those have watched UConn in its current lineup configuration since Samarie Walker's departure, this might not be a huge deal - I just really didn't imagine her to be that good playing down low, even though it wasn't the first time she's done it.
And really I should know better - every time I seem to set expectations for what's possible with Moore, she seems to shatter them and take my imagination in a completely different direction. She's both predictably dominant and completely beyond categorization.
To take it a step further, I have a very hard time remembering a basketball player who was quite as complete as Moore, at least in my lifetime. NBA fans and I sometimes try to compare men's players to women's and the only way to talk about Moore is she's like Player X without flaws a, b, and c.
If you can't stand back and just say "wow" when watching Moore, I would openly question how much you really appreciate basketball - as many people have already said, she is hands down the most skilled player in college basketball, making no distinction between men's and women's. I would submit Monday's game as further evidence of that - Moore is the rare individual athlete who forces you to marvel at what they do and appreciate the finest elements of the game a little bit more even you have no real rooting interest in her or her team.
With all that, I challenge anyone to suggest what Duke could have done differently - aside from not playing 2010-11 Duke basketball - to avoid getting blown out by a UConn team playing out of its mind and led by a player who routinely seems to defy common sense.