Sept. 18, 2013
STORRS, Conn. - One of the staples of Connecticut basketball over the past few seasons has been the dominating transition game. Speed is a trait that doesn't get overlooked in Storrs, as head coach Geno Auriemma constantly pushes the pace, forcing his opponents to try and slow the Connecticut guards. For sophomore Moriah Jefferson, the quick pace of the UConn offense plays right to her strengths and has allowed her to thrive in her role, coming off the bench to provide a spark.
The 5-7 guard was one of just two Huskies to play in all 39 games last season, joining former standout Kelly Faris. Despite making only two starts, Jefferson made her presence felt for UConn, averaging 17.4 minutes, 4.7 points and 1.8 assists per game. Jefferson reached double-figures eight times throughout the year, including three during the NCAA tournament. The Glen Heights, Texas native led the team in steals eight times throughout 2012-13 and committed just 49 turnovers during the season.
She has established herself as one of the most dangerous bench threats in the nation. With senior guard Bria Hartley looking to rebound after a tough 2012-13, Jefferson figures once again to be an integral part of the Huskies' offense.
"It has its up-and-downs for sure," said Jefferson said of coming off the bench. "Sometimes you can go out there a little bit cold, but there's a benefit because you can get a feel for the game. I can hear coaches' comments to my teammates and what he wants to do. I think that helps me because I can go out there and try to relay the message."
Jefferson was a highly-touted recruit, garnering interest from Texas powerhouses Baylor and Texas A&M because of her electrifying speed. Ultimately, she decided Connecticut was the best fit for her style of play. She understands she brings a unique element to the Huskies and has been working hard to enhance her abilities.
"I think it brings a lot," she said of her speed. "I think we're at our best when we get up and down the court. It wears other teams out. I think we're one of the best conditioned teams out there so we try to push the tempo. We know we can force other teams to make mistakes when we get going so we try to keep our opponents running as much as possible."
Jefferson spent the summer playing for the 2013 USA U19 World Championship Team, helping to lead America to a Gold Medal in a 61-28 victory over France. In the gold medal game, she was credited with game-highs of five assists and four steals. The U19 team consisted of three Husky players, as Jefferson joined fellow sophomores Morgan Tuck and Breanna Stewart on the hardwood.
"It was an awesome time," said Jefferson. "Playing with Stewie and Morgan was exciting. I felt like we had really great chemistry on the court. It kept me sharp during the offseason which is something I think was important. It felt good to go out there and represent my country. I'm really glad we were able to come out on top."
After one year in Storrs, it's becoming evident that Jefferson never misses an opportunity to improve her game. Despite coming to Connecticut as a home-schooled athlete, she has never shied away from asking her teammates questions. In fact, Hartley has been one of Jefferson's biggest mentors.
"She's been great, especially in practice. She always has little hints and tips to give me during training sessions. She works so hard which I think is something everyone on this team can try to do. She's a great teacher and I love having her as a teammate."
Jefferson's relentless efforts to develop her game have not gone unnoticed by her teammates. While she is just a sophomore, her teammates already look to her for a positive energy and leadership presence.
"Moriah's a spark of energy," said Tuck. "She's always one of the first people out on the court and the last to leave. She takes the game seriously. I think it makes us work harder. She's the kind of player every team wants to have."
Even though the Huskies won a national championship and boasted an .897 winning percentage in 2012-13, Jefferson isn't satisfied. In the NCAA Tournament she earned double-digit minutes in all six of UConn's contests, averaging 6.8 points and 2.0 assists per game while shooting .528 percent from the floor in 19.8 minutes per contest She also scored a career-high 16 points in UConn's First Round victory over Idaho but she still thought she could have played better.
"We have so much room to improve," Jefferson stated. "We're nowhere near perfect. I don't think you can ever be perfect but there's always something to improve on. We know we have to work harder than we did last season. We're ready for that. Practices are going to be tougher, games will be tougher, but at least we have that experience to help anchor us throughout the year."
Indeed, if Jefferson, with a year of experience under her belt, can be an impact player for the Huskies, fans could certainly see an improved Husky team. Perfection may not be attainable, but marked improvement seems to be on the horizon for this young Huskies' team.