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Thursday, July 16, 2015

UConn's Jefferson excited to suit up for U.S. in Pan Am Games

There is another chance to make a run at championship glory before Moriah Jefferson teams up with Breanna Stewart in the quest for an unprecedented fourth straight women's Division I national title in the upcoming season.

Stewart, the only returning player from the U.S. team which finished seventh in the 2011 Pan Am Games, and Jefferson will be among the headliners as the U.S. opens play in the Pan Am Games today at 9 p.m. against Brazil.
Jefferson is pretty fired up about the chance to make her Pan Am Games debut and to play alongside Stewart once again.
"She is my teammate and I love her to death," Jefferson said. "Any time you can play especially in that setting, we are representing our country, I can't wait.
"We have been playing together since I can't even tell you how long now and it just seems like second nature to be on the same team. It is kind of weird that Morgan (Tuck) isn't there this time but we understand that she has things that she needs to take care of."
Tuck overcame multiple knee surgeries to play a starring role in UConn's national championship run last season so she opted to pass on the chance to attend the trials used to select the Pan Am Games and World University Games squads.

Few people were surprised when Jefferson, a first-team All-American as a junior as well as the winner of the Nancy Lieberman Award presented annually to the nation's top point guard, However, before getting to UConn Jefferson got a taste of what it is like not to make the cut for a national team so she didn't think it was a foregone conclusion that she was going to make the squad.

"I know what it feels like to be cut because I have been there coming in and I didn't make it for a couple of years and then  the past couple of years I have been on the team," Jefferson said. "I never take anything for granted, I go out there, play my hardest and hope I make the team."
Four years ago the Pan Am Games were played in late October meaning that many top programs weren't volunteering their stars to suit up for the U.S. The result was a seventh-place finish as the U.S. posted a 2-2 record. Stewart, the only high school player on the squad, was surrounded by under the radar prospects. Avery Warley is the only member of the team on an active WNBA roster. Kayla Standish was 19th overall pick in 2012 WNBA draft while April Sykes, Christine Flores and Katelan Redmon were also selected in the draft in '12. Stewart averaged 15.3 points, 11.3 rebounds and also led the team with nine blocked shots. It would not be a reach to suggest that a team consisting of the players failing to make either the World University Games or Pan Am Games squads would be better than the U.S. team competing in the Pan Am Games in 2011.
Stewart, Jefferson and South Carolina's Tiffany Mitchell are among the top prospects for the 2016 draft. Kelsey Plum, who was the No. 7 scorer in Division I as a sophomore, and Stephanie Mavunga are among the highly-touted underclassmen on the squad giving the U.S. a much better chance at success than the team had four years ago.

The U.S. faces the Dominican Republic on Friday before wrapping up pool play on Saturday against Puerto Rico. A potential showdown with Canada could await in the medal round. If that occurs, Jefferson could find herself guarding her UConn teammate Kia Nurse.
"It is really special," Jefferson said. "It is really exciting to be able to do what she has done on her national team then to come over here, play and win a national championship in her first year so I know they really are proud of her."

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