Sophomore Moriah Jefferson came of age Monday before 9,145 fans at the Ferrell Center and a national television audience. This was arguably the biggest spot of her career when it comes to a regular season game. Playing before friends and family in her home state of Texas and playing against Baylor All-American point guard and long-time friend Odyssey Sims, this was a chance for Jefferson to shine.
And Jefferson was absolutely brilliant. She scored the ball. She distributed the ball. She stole the ball. She got her hands on loose balls. She played a big role in limiting Sims to a dreadful 4-of-25 shooting night. And with the outcome still very much in doubt in the final minutes, it was Jefferson who joined senior leaders Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley as the loudest players in the UConn huddle.
It takes a special type of player to serve as the starting point guard for the top-ranked Huskies. At this juncture, Jefferson is proving to be a special player.
“I can’t think of anything more important to a player’s success than confidence,’’ UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “And right now she’s got a ton of it. It’s a level of confidence she has that allows her to make good plays. She believes in herself. She knows what plays to make. She never looks over at the bench and worries. She’s just grown up. It’s not easy for a kid to come from Dallas to UConn and not feel a little bit overwhelmed.
“She’s a tough little kid. She doesn’t back down from anyone. I’m more and more impressed with her every day in practice and in games.’’
Jefferson finished with 13 points (4-of-8 FG), six rebounds, five assists, four steals and one block in a career-high 38 minutes. Most impressive, from the perspective of a point guard, was the fact that she did not commit a turnover.
Afterward, this was a performance she could cherish.
“It meant a lot,’’ Jefferson said. “I wanted to do whatever I could for my team. It’s incredible. It’s a good feeling. Any time you come out in an arena like this and then playing people like Odyssey Sims you have to stay composed. So I think the whole game I was just trying not to get over worried, to just stay composed and be a leader for my team.
“My confidence is building and I’m coming out and I’m playing a lot better. So I want to keep building on that.’’
Jefferson established herself immediately against the Lady Bears. She was aggressive offensively, scoring the first five points for the Huskies on a driving layup and a 3-pointer.
Jefferson had 10 points in the first 7:52. Ultimately, she assisted on a layup by Breanna Stewart, made one free throw and grabbed two defensive rebounds in the final 3:35 as the Huskies were in the process of burying Baylor with a 10-2 run to end the game.
“If I’m out there out of control, my team is going to feed off of that,’’ Jefferson said. “I can’t allow that to happen. If I’m calm and making the plays and doing the correct things, they’ll think, `Hey, we’re going to be alright.’’’
Jefferson is averaging 10.4 points, 2.9 rebounds and team-highs of 4.7 assists and 2.6 steals in 28.0 minutes this season. She is shooting 55.7 percent from the field and has a team-best 2.7 assist to turnover ratio in 504 total minutes (84:31).
Here is how Jefferson explains her ascension this season …
“Part of it is physical because I’m one of the smaller players, but the jump I had to make was with the mental part,’’ Jefferson said. “You have to be confident. You have to be prepared to play at a certain level every game and play the same way every day.’’