Power sometimes comes in pint-sized packages. It is not an attribute corned by just the plus-sized player. That’s because power often lies more in belief than in the bicep. And the proof is what fuels the frame of Moriah Jefferson.
The sophomore guard is barely 5-foot-7. Her body is more blade that boxcar. And yet she may be the toughest player No. 1 UConn has, a kid now so confident with what she can do, what she needs to do, that she seems to do it with an effortlessness that makes it impossible to take your eyes off her.
“[Jefferson] is a one-man press breaker,” Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer said Sunday. “They’ve [UConn] never had anybody like that who can break a press by herself.”
Think about that for a second. This is a program that spawned Jen Rizzotti, Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird and Renee Montgomery, all All-American point guards. But it is doubtful any of them composed two regular-season games to compare to what Jefferson authored at Baylor and Rutgers last week.
Playing in highly partisan environments, against defenses that squeeze as dispassionately as a vice, Jefferson was flawless. She played 38 minutes at Baylor with no turnovers. She played 32 minutes at Rutgers with no turnovers.
“It’s just the way you look at things,” Jefferson said. “If you think about not turning the ball over, you likely will. But if you don’t think about it that way, if you focus on making assists and plays, then you’ll have a better chance of doing it.”
And while she was taking care of the ball, she also was doing other things with it, scoring 26 points, shooting 10 of 16, dishing 13 assists.
“Sometimes you’ll make a turnover that just happens [for no logical reason],” senior guard Bria Hartley said. “She doesn’t even have those.”
She also had seven steals, increasing her team lead to 49.
“And it [the steals] kills the confidence of the other team,” Jefferson said. “It makes them focus more on [protecting] the ball then giving it to their teammates.”
Largely because of the consistency Jefferson provides at the point of UConn’s attack, everything else its offense does can flow with greater ease. On a team stockpiled with enormous talent, with scorers from perimeter to post, that’s an advantage hard for mortals to overcome.
“You may argue that the point guard [Jefferson] isn’t as experienced, but sometimes when you are quick like that, maybe you don’t have to have experience,” Stringer said. “You know how to get to the hole [the basket] and you know how to deliver.”
Wednesday at the XL Center, the Huskies (19-0, 6-0) show off their talent show again to Memphis, a team the Huskies beat, 90-49, at FedEx Center on Jan. 4.
UConn coach Geno Auriemma knows exactly what he is looking at in Jefferson because she’s seen the movie many times before.
“It [performance] comes from knowing how to better prepare in practice and having the confidence to do the things you are asked to do,” Auriemma said. “When people play poorly it’s because they lack confidence. The reason she struggled at times last year had more to do with her confidence than her ability. It wasn’t because she couldn’t handle the ball or make decisions.
“But that usually happens with freshman. But the great players, by the time they are sophomores, figure it out. I’ve always said if you are not a great player by the time you are a sophomore, it’s going to be hard to be an All-American type player at UConn.”
So far this season, Jefferson has just 31 turnovers, one every 17.3 minutes (536) she has played. She also has 92 assists. By comparison, Memphis has 219 assists and 317 turnovers as a team.
And if that wasn’t enough, Jefferson does it with a style that testifies to her mindset. Her dribble, so low to the ground, is aggressive and powerful; the ball pounds into the floor as if delivered by a jack hammer.
“Moriah is so low to the ground anyway that no one [defender] can reach down there anyway [to steal it],” Hartley said.
Watching Jefferson play lately makes it clear she is having the time of her life. Everything is coming together for her, which in turn will make it easier for her team to accomplish its goal – a ninth national championship.
“My dad and uncle were the ones who worked me,” Jefferson said. “I remember my father telling me I should be able to dribble while keeping my head up and he started me using my left hand. So now I am at the point where I like using my left hand to take the ball to the basket.
“And now, the way I have played is something I’ve been focused on. I take a lot of pride in. I don’t want to turn the ball over so my team can have a chance to score. And now it’s two games in a row. I’m going to try and stay on that pace.
“They [opponents] try to turn up the heat, but I’ve faced that my entire life and have grown comfortable with. I know I can dribble the ball for 30 seconds, if I have to.”