HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — With a minute left, Maya Moore stood up on the bench and whirled a towel above her head, the grin on her face so bright it could light up all of Connecticut.
Just when it seems there’s nothing more she can do, the senior All-American finds a way to dazzle anew. In a game for the ages, Moore put on a performance that was more than equal to the occasion.
“Every night when you need her to be at her best, she’s at her best,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said.
And because of that, top-ranked UConn has surpassed the 88-game winning streak set by John Wooden’s UCLA men’s team from 1971-74. Moore had a career-high 41 points and 10 rebounds Tuesday night, setting the tone as Connecticut blew by No. 22 Florida State 93-62 for win No. 89 in a row.
“You take those 41 away and it’s a little better ballgame,” Seminoles coach Sue Semrau said. “She’s as tough as nails.”
Moore has been the constant in these 89 games, a streak that has spanned 2 1/2 seasons and two national titles. Like Diana Taurasi, Rebecca Lobo, Sue Bird and all the other UConn greats who came before her, she is as driven as she is gifted. She takes over games when she needs to, finds ways to make her teammates better and never, ever stops working.
Just as UCLA had Bill Walton, UConn has Maya Moore.
Florida State managed to stay close for the first two minutes, and that was long enough for Moore. With the game tied at 6, she scored seven points during a 15-2 run to gave Connecticut its first double-digit lead, and extended the lead to 34-15 with a fadeaway jumper from the baseline.
Florida State (9-3) made a quick run to cut the lead to 11, but More and the Huskies weren’t about to let anyone spoil this night.
UConn ripped off the next 16 points, capped by consecutive 3-pointers from freshman Bria Hartley and a pull-up by Moore.
At halftime, it was Florida State 27, Moore 26.
“They are really a special, special team and with a leader like Maya Moore, they can do special things,” Semrau said.
But even with the game in hand, Moore kept pushing. She hustled for rebounds, dove for loose balls and barked at her younger teammates when they missed their assignments on defense. Part of the reason UConn has been so spectacular for so long is the older players are as hard on the newcomers as Auriemma is, demanding they live up to the program’s tradition. Moore is no different.
Her influence can already be seen on Hartley, who scored 21 points and shot 5 of 6 from 3-point range.
“The last couple of years, we’ve been spoiled because we’ve had a pretty experienced group. And a talented group,” Moore said in a recent interview. “Now you have to remember, these guys don’t know anything yet so you have to tell them. `This is how we do things, this is important.’ So when I leave and I’m coming back as an alum, I want to see the same thing.”
Only after scoring on a layup with 2:14 left to top the 40 points she scored against Syracuse on Jan. 17, 2009, did Moore begin to let loose. She pumped her first as the ball dropped through the net and, after Auriemma took her out about 30 seconds later, slapped hands and exchanged hugs with her coaches and teammates on the bench.
She finished with three assists, three blocks and a steal.
“It’s kind of cool that this game happened not even in the middle of our season,” Moore said. “Now we have this high, but we can still play. So I love it. I’m ready to play the next game, actually.”
As the final seconds ticked down, Moore drummed her hands on her thighs and yelled encouragement to her teammates still on the floor. Perched on her seat like a coiled spring, she slumped back when a timeout was called, delaying the celebration.
Finally, when the buzzer sounded, she jumped to her feet and sprinted onto the court. She and her teammates ran to the student section to exchange high-fives, then returned to the bench to don brand-new “89 and Counting” T-shirts.
As Auriemma did his usual postgame prize giveaway for the students — befitting such a big night, Tuesday’s gift was a Wii — Moore and her teammates mugged for the cameras at center court. And when Auriemma showered praise on Moore and Tiffany Hayes, UConn’s other veteran star, the two players hugged while their teammates patted them on the head.
“What I’m going to remember about tonight is that forget about the other stuff you may have heard,” Auriemma said. “Tonight, really more than anything, was about Maya Moore and Tiffany Hayes and the fact they’ve been through all 89 of these.”
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