Maya Moore is headed to the Final Four with a chance to pad perhaps the most impressive resume in the history of women’s college basketball with yet another championship.
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Connecticut’s latest star is already a four-time All-American with 3,000 career points. Nice personal milestones for sure, but far from the biggest prize.
To her and the rest of the Huskies it’s all about cutting down those nets in Indianapolis and locking up a third straight national title.
Moore scored 28 points, including the 3,000th of her career, to lead top-seeded UConn to a 75-40 win Tuesday night against Duke and a fourth straight trip to the Final Four.
”I don’t think about it right now,” Moore said about becoming the seventh Division I player to reach the 3,000-point mark. ”Of course it’s really exciting to be at a program where I’ve been able to flourish as an offensive player.”
Coach Geno Auriemma wasn’t surprised by his star’s huge game.
”We did talk in the locker room that this was going to be a big night for Maya,” Auriemma said. ”You could just sense it. Too many games leading up to this where things didn’t click for whatever reason. She doesn’t let a lot of big games go by without going off in a couple of them.”
With two more victories, the Huskies will match the record for consecutive NCAA titles set by Tennessee (1996-98) and equaled by UConn (2002-04).
Next up for Auriemma’s current juggernaut is Notre Dame on Sunday in the national semifinals.
The two Big East teams are plenty familiar with each other, having played three times this season already. UConn won all of those matchups including a 73-64 victory in the Big East tournament championship game.
”It’s going to be rough,” Moore said. ”We know each other so well and there are not a lot of surprises. It’s going to be a battle to grind it out. We’re representing well for our conference. It should be fun.”
Once again rural Storrs, Conn., is the center of the college basketball world as both the men’s and women’s teams are in the Final Four. It’s the third time in the past seven years that both programs have advanced this far with 2004 culminating in dual titles.
Throw in the football team reaching the BCS as Big East champions for the first time and its the first time ever one school has been in all three events.
”Take that!,” Auriemma said.
Earlier in the day, Moore became only the second four-time AP All-American. She was a unanimous choice for the third straight year and has helped Connecticut to an unprecedented 149 victories while losing only three times.
Tuesday night she became the first D-I player to reach 3,000 points since Southwest Missouri State star Jackie Stiles in 2001.
Moore, who earned outstanding player of the regional honors, fell a bit short of achieving the school’s first triple-double since Laura Lishness had one in the Big East tournament title game in 1989. Moore finished with 10 rebounds and seven steals.
”She does what she always does in big games lifting us on her back,” said Auriemma.
Auriemma continue his success in his hometown. The Hall of Fame coach made his first Final Four in 1991 after playing at the regional at the Palestra.
”Here we are 20 years later and that team was pretty special because no one ever expected us to do something like that,” he said. ”What this team did in its own way with the schedule we played and what we did was an incredible accomplishment.”
Auriemma also won his second national championship in Philadelphia in 2000.
Now the Huskies (36-1) are back in the Final Four for the fourth straight season and 12th time in the last 17 years.
The Blue Devils (32-4) faced questions leading up to the game on what they’d do differently than they did in a 36-point blowout loss to UConn on Jan. 31. In that game, the Huskies delivered an early knockout blow, scoring 23 of the first 25 points.
On Tuesday night, UConn got off to another quick start tallying 10 of the first 12 points. But this time Duke survived the early flurry, rallying back behind Shay Selby and Jasmine Thomas.
Selby’s back-to-back 3-pointers cut the deficit to 17-14 midway through the half. Duke still trailed by three before UConn threw the knockout punch.
The Huskies scored the final seven points of the half, once again keyed by Moore. She hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key and then ended the period with a baseline jumper that made it 30-20.
Moore had 13 points, nine rebounds and five steals by the break.
The Huskies scored 22 of the first 25 points in the second half to put the game away. Moore had six of the nine points in the spurt, including an acrobatic tip-in off a missed shot that made it 39-22 with 15:56 left.
Her jumper later in the burst gave her 21 points and the Blue Devils still had 22.
Moore broke the 3,000-point milestone on a fouline jumper with 3:45 left in the game. The record basket was a sigh of relief for Huskies fans as Moore had left the game a few minutes earlier after hitting the floor hard. She slowly got up and jogged over to the bench as Auriemma called time out. Moore later said that she had just banged knees with a Duke player and was fine.
After riding the stationary bike on the sideline, Moore returned to get the milestone points.
”That’s the first time I did that with anyone to get something done like that,” Auriemma said. ”I’m glad we did it and it’s out of the way rather than her having to answer about it all week.”
Thomas finished her stellar career at Duke with an off-game. The senior guard had 17 points to lead Duke, but was just 7 for 22 from the field.
”Jasmine Thomas has been incredible,” Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said. ”She was left a little bit on an island today with not much help offensively.”
She was the only player in double figures for Duke, which shot 25 percent from the field compared to UConn’s 59 percent.
The Blue Devils were trying to complete a sweep of the top two teams in the Big East conference. Duke knocked off DePaul 70-63 in the regional semifinals.
”We had a great season,” Thomas said. ”We had a young team and we grew together as a team. This team is going to bounce back from this.”
Duke and Connecticut met once before in the regional final when the Blue Devils came away with a 63-61 victory in 2006 before falling in the NCAA championship game to Maryland.
Monique Currie, who played on that Duke team, was in the crowd Tuesday night sitting behind the Blue Devils bench. She hit four key free throws down the stretch to seal that victory over the Huskies.
It was the only previous NCAA tournament meeting between the teams.