LINCOLN, Neb. -- The decision had been rather easy for UConn opponents in recent years. Needing to choose one player to slack off of defensively, Kelly Faris was usually the one who was left alone.
Faris was not as talented offensively as some of her teammates and she was tabbed as the Husky least likely to score consistently.
This season the decision has become increasingly more difficult. The top-ranked Huskies are balanced and more dangerous, with all five starters capable of having big games offensively. However, if opponents are going to dare one player to beat them offensively, it has been sophomore point guard Moriah Jefferson.
Nothing has changed in the NCAA tournament. And that is why UConn coach Geno Auriemma has tabbed Jefferson as the X-factor for the Huskies.
"She does so many things to impact the game, and the one thing that other teams are not counting on is her making shots from the perimeter,'' Auriemma said. "They can't afford to guard everybody because that's hard to do well. So you take somebody and you play off of them, and that defender helps a little bit on somebody else. The logical choice is Moriah.''
Jefferson has regularly made opponents pay for their loose defensive coverage. Through the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament, she has indeed been a difference-maker for UConn (36-0).
Jefferson has scored 25 points (10-of-15 FG, 4-of-5 3-pointers) and has 10 rebounds, six assists and six steals in lopsided wins over 16th-seeded Prairie View A&M and ninth-seeded Saint Joseph's.
"It's exciting (Auriemma) thinks of me like that because it means I'm doing something right,'' Jefferson said. ``I just want to come out and play consistent throughout the tournament and just do whatever I can for my team.''
Jefferson had 11 points, including a 3-pointer during UConn's 10-0 run to start the game, five rebounds and two assists in 30 minutes Tuesday against Saint Joseph's. She opened the tournament with 14 points, five rebounds, four assists and five steals in 26 minutes Sunday against Prairie View A&M.
"I think she gets better every game that she plays,'' Saint Joseph's coach Cindy Griffin said. "I think she gets more comfortable. She's certainly a young player, but surrounded by great players. And she plays with a lot of confidence. She plays beyond her years.''
Jefferson said that she takes it as a challenge when teams opt to leave her open. Not only does she lead the Huskies in assists (4.9) and steals (2.6) and is their top 1-on-1 defender, but she is also second on the team in field goal shooting percentage (.583) and is tied with Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis for the team lead in 3-point shooting percentage (.431).
Jefferson is averaging 6.7 shots per game. That is last among starters behind Breana Stewart (14.9), Bria Hartley (12.7), Mosqueda-Lewis (9.9) and Stefanie Dolson (9.0).
"If I let people sag off on me and I don't contribute to the game offensively, then what's the point of me being on the court,'' Jefferson said. "Playing with great players like I am, it's so easy to not shoot and just give them the ball because you know they're going to knock down big shots. But, at the same time, if teams are playing off of you then you have no choice but to shoot it. And I'm ready to do that.''
BYU is next in line to devise a plan to slow down the Huskies. The teams meet Saturday in the regional semifinals at Pinnacle Bank Arena (4:30 p.m., ESPN). Read Full Article
Jefferson is as confident as she has been at any point this season. And if the Cougars give her an opening, she will look to capitalize.
"Teams think they can play off her, but she creates a lot of offense for us getting into the lane and getting a lot of assists,'' Hartley said. "She also gets a lot of steals. She has really impacted the game in a lot of ways. I'm proud of her, and I think she's going to do really well in the tournament.''
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