During the three years they played together at UConn, Maya Moore and Tiffany Hayes traveled to three Final Fours and won two national championships, usually laughing at each other’s jokes along the way.
But starting Sunday, Moore and Hayes will be on different sides when the Minnesota Lynx and Atlanta Dream begin play in the best-of-five WNBA Finals in Minnesota.
“It’s a little different when you play against a friend like her,” said Hayes, the Dream’s second-year guard. “We have some little conversations, maybe have a laugh on the free throw line, but otherwise things are pretty much the same as playing against anyone else.”
Moore’s incredible streak of playing for championships wherever she goes continues with her third trip to the Finals in her three seasons in the WNBA.
Minnesota won the championship by beating Atlanta in her rookie season  and lost last year to Indiana. Now, the Lynx have the best regular-season record (26-8) in the league and have won 13 of their last 14 games, including playoff sweeps of Phoenix and Seattle.
“It’s something that I will definitely be able to take in and reflect upon when I am done playing,” Moore said. “I have had the good fortune of being on so many competitive teams in my life. For as long I can remember I have always tried to put myself in the most competitive environment I could.
“But it’s tremendously satisfying to be here [the WNBA Finals] again [for the third time in three seasons]. We knew we had the ability. We expected to make it back. It’s easy to look at a team and make a prediction that they should do this or that. But to actually accomplish it is very satisfying.”
Moore is looking forward to playing against Hayes this week. The teams split two regular-season meetings. Moore said the relationships you build with college teammates invariably are the ones that hold the most lasting impact.
“In college, you live together, room together when you are on the road,” Moore said. “You see each other all of the time and we had the opportunity to play for Coach Auriemma, the toughest coach any of us have ever had. You are together for years and there is nothing that quite compares to the togetherness that develops.
“In the WNBA and overseas it’s quite different. You are together as teammates but away from the court, you have your own lives. You are in charge of your own fate.”
Moore and Hayes played unique rolls on the UConn teams they shared from 2008-11.
“Tiffany and I are very silly individuals. We seemed to always be the ringleaders for the practical joking that went on [at UConn]. And I always loved to compete with her in practice and in pickup games.
“Tiffany was always a very competitive player. She always wanted to win every time she was on the court. She was quick, she could rebound. She could slash and shoot. She was a lot of fun to play with at UConn.”
Despite a knee injury that cost her seven games this season, Hayes has developed into a key piece in the Dream’s postseason by averaging 11.3 points per game and 3.7 rebounds. In the first two rounds of the playoffs, she’s averaged 13.6 points. She scored 18 points in the deciding third game against Washington in the Eastern Conference semifinals, and 23 in Game 1 of the Conference Finals against Indiana.
Hayes remembers Moore being the one who watched over her teammates.
“Maya is a great person, and great to have on your team. In college she was always like the team’s mom, making sure that everything was okay,” Hayes said. “We’re still good friends. It’s cool when we see each other. We’ll go out to eat if we have time when we’re in the same city, we text each other, things like that.
Moore was the runner-up to Los Angeles’ Candace Parker in the MVP voting. She led the WNBA in three-point field goal percentage and three-point shots made (.453 on 72-of-159) and ranked third in scoring (18.5 ppg). She also finished sixth in steals and seventh in free throw percentage (.882).
“Maya’s maturity is probably the biggest thing,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. “Even from training camp she’s really evolved in terms of her connection with the group. Some of the stuff that Maya does are things she can just kind of do on her own. So finding a way to remain a part of the group, to kind of really become a part of the fabric as opposed to being a little bit on the outside, I think she’s really immersed herself into that.”