There are times it seems nearly impossible to find Moriah Jefferson on the court. After all, she the tiniest branch sprouting from UConn’s oak, barely 5-foot-7, thin as a paper clip.
But in time, her huge presence becomes unmistakable. She eventually emerges from the crowd of bigger bodies in the shadow of the rim, fast and certain, heading places with an acceleration that no defender has been able to impede this season.
In basketball, fast equates to big as assuredly as tall or broad. And through their first 11 games, Jefferson has proven to be one of the biggest assets the defending national champion has in its arsenal.
Amid the great scoring performances that led No. 1 UConn to its win over Duke on Tuesday, and there were many, the play of Jefferson left a lasting impression on Geno Auriemma.
In 34 minutes, the sophomore scored nine points and had seven assists with three steals and just one turnover.
“It was the best game she’s played at Connecticut,” Auriemma said.
More importantly, she created the havoc only a player with her skill set can. Jefferson has the innate ability to control the ball, and put it where it needs to, while playing at an exhausting pace.
The speed, combined with her slight frame, gets her easily into the crevices no one else can explore. Once there, UConn’s offensive options expand, opening vistas for Stefanie Dolson, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, Bria Hartley and Breanna Stewart.
Jefferson has only 20 turnovers in 312 minutes and six came in one game, ironically the Huskies’ carefree 46-point win over Oregon on Nov. 20.
She also is shooting 57.3 percent from the floor, many of her baskets a direct result of her defense (29 steals) which create transition opportunities.
On Sunday, Jefferson and the Huskies will play California at Madison Square Garden, the second game of the annual Maggie Dixon Classic. It will be UConn’s third appearance in the event that honors the late Army coach who died at 29 in 2006.
Auriemma has coached many of the game’s great point guards, including Jen Rizzotti, Sue Bird and Renee Montgomery. As he prepares for his second term as USA Basketball’s senior national coach, he also knows the position is about to transition as both Bird (33) and Lindsay Whalen (31) grow older.
Auriemma on the move
The recruitment of A’ja Wilson, the top-ranked uncommitted high school senior in the country, continued for Auriemma with his visit to the Myrtle Beach Classic this week where Wilson’s Heathwood Hall team is playing. In Wednesday’s overtime 72-70 loss to Dreher of Columbia, S.C., Wilson, led all scorers with 40 points and added 18 rebounds. She said she will chose between UConn, South Carolina, Tennessee and North Carolina in the spring.