UConn Women’s Historic Streak: Could Maya Moore Play in the NBA?

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University of Connecticut Huskies' Lorin Dixon (30) raises her finger during the second half of their game against the Ohio State Buckeyes during their Maggie Dixon Classic NCAA women's basketball game in New York December 19, 2010.

REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

In the cacophonous world of sports media over the past few days, one of the hottest debates concerns the triumphs of the UConn women’s basketball team, which trounced Florida State in Hartford Tuesday night, 93-62, to give the program its 89th straight win.That’s one better than the record 88 straight won by the UCLA men’s teams in the early 1970s. Is UConn’s accomplishment harder, or easier, to pull off than UCLA’s? Are the women getting unfairly belittled for sexist reasons?

No matter your point of view, it might be wise to follow the lead of one impassioned basketball fan with a keen sense of history, hoops or otherwise, and just give the UConn women their due. During his post-game press conference, UConn coach Geno Auriemma was handed the phone by a school staffer: President Obama was on the line. Auriemma said Obama told him that UConn’s accomplishment was a great thing for sports to be celebrated. “We have not lost since you’ve been inaugurated,” Auriemma told the President. “How about we keep that streak going for a couple of more years, huh?”

(See the top 10 sports moments of 2010.)

As long Maya Moore is suiting up for UConn, the streak could at least last through this season, until she graduates. The senior forward has played in all 89 of UConn’s winning games, and is more responsible than any other player for UConn’s excellence. If you like basketball, you’d be doing yourself a disservice by ignoring her. Moore scored a career high 41 points against Florida State, and showed off her entire arsenal: unstoppable drives, a plethora of post-moves, the ability to make quick, accurate passes in traffic. At one point early in the first half, she faked to her left, took one dribble to her right, stopped on a dime and hit a flawless 15-footer. It was a great basketball move – women’s basketball, men’s basketball, Martian basketball or otherwise – that few elite athletes can execute.

After Moore and UConn torched Louisiana State University earlier this season, LSU coach Van Chancellor, a Hall of Famer who won four WNBA titles with the Houston Comets and coached 2004 Olympic team, which won gold in Athens, made an insightful point about Moore. Chancellor described how Moore was the rare women’s player whose upper-body strength, and technically sound shooting technique, allowed her to catch a pass and immediately rise up to the basket in one motion, just like any NBA player. Most women players have to reset their feet, and almost hop, to summon the leg strength to take a shot. This slows down their motions, and makes them easier to defend. Since Moore can skip that move, she can essentially get her shot of whenever, and wherever, she wants. Thus, Barack Obama called Hartford on a Tuesday night.

(Read a Q&A with UConn coach Geno Auriemma.)

Could Moore play in the NBA? Because of her uncommon strength and skill set, she’s the one player for whom a training camp invite wouldn’t be construed as a total publicity stunt. Moore’s height could likely cost her: at 6-feet, she can tower over women’s opponents, but would have trouble matching up against speedy guards in the men’s game. They’d have to guard her though.

When Moore checked out of the game in the final two minutes, the UConn coronation had already begun. Fans waved placards that read “89″. It was truly joyous night: even Auriemma, normally a game-time grump, couldn’t help grinning ear-to-ear. In the first half, he planted a kiss on the cheek of freshman Bria Hartley, who looks poised to be UConn’s next superstar, after she hit a few threes.

If only John Wooden, the legend who coached those UCLA teams, could have lived just a little longer to see his streak broken: Wooden died, at age 99, in June. You could just picture Wooden, the epitome of class, sitting court side in Hartford, applauding the event. His blessing may have silenced many louts who just loathe women’s basketball, and want to laugh off UConn as a cute diversion. “He thought the best basketball was played on the collegiate level,” said one of Wooden’s grandsons, Greg, who flew from California for the game, “and it wasn’t by the men.”

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