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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Challenging second WNBA season for former UConn star Moriah Jefferson

The image was a perfect snap shot of what a season of frustration and pain it has been for the San Antonio Stars.

The Stars fell to 2-17 thanks to the host Connecticut Sun's 33-point third-quarter explosion and perhaps an hour or so after the game was over, two of the faces of the San Antonio franchise made it into the room inside Mohegan Sun Arena used to provide food for media, team officials and other VIPs. In walked Moriah Jefferson holding a napkin to cover her bloody lip and Kayla McBride had a protective boot on the left ankle she injured in Sunday's loss.

San Antonio was expected to be led by Jefferson, a former UConn star who was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2016 WNBA Draft, McBride, who was taken third overall in 2014, and Kelsey Plum, the top pick in the '17 draft. However, the three perimeter players have combined to miss 10 games and even in the ones they have been on the court, they were far from being 100 percent.

"We didn't have a lot of court time together," Jefferson said before Sunday's game. "Kayla came back and played, I wasn't playing because of my knee, Kelsey wasn't playing so there really hasn't been a time when all three of us have been together."

All three got onto the court on Sunday. McBride and Plum started as they combined for 25 points while Jefferson returned after missing the last two games due to a concussion. Jefferson played 20 minutes and finished with eight points two coming on a steal and layup in the second quarter to give the Stars the lead for the first time in the game. McBride was need to be helped off the court after injuring her ankle midway through the fourth quarter.

Jefferson, who missed three games earlier in the season due to a knee injury, was thrilled to be back on the court.

"It's hard not playing knowing that I could do something to help my team, it is tough but I think I have been preaching patience on the off the court," Jefferson said. "My body needed the rest of a little bit. I have played year round so things happen and you can't control them."

The perpetually upbeat Jefferson is not letting the Stars' 2-17 record dampen her spirits.

"It is not like we are getting blown out each and every game," Jefferson said. "We play well together, we've had injuries and a lot of different things, a new coaching staff, new everything. I think five or six minutes change each game. It is just a different coaching staff, our defensive schemes are different, some of the players are the same but we have a lot of different things but it is mostly learning to adjust. It is going to take a lot of time."

Jefferson, who had started only five games, is third on San Antonio in scoring averaging 10.6 points in 25.6 minutes per game. Her averages of 4.4 assists and 1.8 steals per game are tops on the team. She is shooting 53.4 percent from the field (just behind team leader Kayla Alexander's mark of 53.5) and has a 44.4 mark from 3-point range. However, Jefferson is trying to do more than just impressive individual numbers to the team.

"I am a better leader, smarter," Jefferson said. "You know the girls are going to be a lot bigger, stronger and I have been trying to be smarter with the ball, coming off the screens knowing where my teammates like to catch the ball."

Jefferson credits her time playing overseas in Turkey for making her a better player even if her injuries have slowed her down in Jefferson's second WNBA season.

"They don't call as many fouls as they do in this league, all the guards are really quick so it helps you a lot," Jefferson said. "They expect you to be a scorer every night so it helps you. The ball is in my hands 90-95 percent of the time so it is learning how to score in different ways and still pass the ball."

Due to her overseas commitments, she was unable to make it to Dallas for the Final Four. She couldn't believe her eyes when she saw the final score in UConn's loss to Mississippi State in the national semifinals.

"It was like 4 in the morning," Jefferson said, "I had a game the next day, I woke up and saw that they lost. I went back to sleep and woke up in shock, it felt like a dream a little bit. Those guys played amazing all season, nobody expected them to do what they did."

As for Sunday's game, San Antonio held a five-point lead at halftime before things fell apart. Connecticut came up with eight steals (a franchise record for steals in a quarter) in the third quarter. San Antonio was outscored 33-10 and despite a late offensive flurry spearheaded by Plum, never challenged again.

Alyssa Thomas, who plays as hard as any player in the WNBA, turned up the intensity to an even higher level in the third quarter as the Sun improved to 12-8. The win combined with Washington's loss to New York means that Connecticut has sole possession of first place in the Eastern Conference which is rather impressive considering that the Sun played without standout forward Chiney Ogwumike all season long and has dealt with other injuries.

Today was my first day back at work after being on vacation for the last two weeks.

Among the newsworthy items that transpired while I was away included five former UConn players (Sue Bird, Tina Charles, Tiffany Hayes, Maya Moore and Diana Taurasi) being named as starters for the July 22 WNBA All-Star Game. Breanna Stewart should definitely join them at the All-Star Game in Seattle. Stefanie Dolson and Jefferson also could be selected to play which would make the all-star game be a little bit of a UConn reunion. The reserves will be announced on Tuesday.

Also, the list of players heading to U.S. U-23 training camp were also released. When I spoke to Napheesa Collier at Geno Auriemma's charity golf tournament last month, she said that she was going along with Katie Lou Samuelson, Azura' Stevens and Gabby Williams were all going even though UConn's upcoming trip to Italy would prevent them from playing in the 2017 Four Nations Tournament in Tokyo.

"We won't be doing it (the tournament next month) but as least we'll be doing (the trials) and we'll be seen by the same people."

Also, it came out that Saniya Chong's first season playing overseas will feature to trip to Israel to play for Elitzur Holon.

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