Moriah Jefferson's Sweet Moves The Difference

Nicknamed For A High-Calorie Treat, Bonn Bonn Turns Game Around

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COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Her nickname is Bonn Bonn. She probably should be MoJeff or MoJet or MoMach4. Like her uniform number suggests, Moriah Jefferson plays at four times the speed of sound.

But, no, it's Bonn Bonn.

"You know Cinnabon in the mall? Those are my favorite things," Jefferson said after she had brought extraordinary energy and disruptive speed to UConn's most satisfying 72-55 rout of No. 8 Maryland Friday night before an announced crowd of 15,327 at Comcast Center. "My best friend just started going, 'Bonn. Bonn.' It was like the ninth grade, I just kept it."

Geno Auriemma has another name for his sophomore guard.

"A worrier," Auriemma said, "a worrier by nature. Obviously I've only known her for a couple of years, but she worries a lot. She worries about her performance. She worries about what I think. She worries about things that aren't worth worrying about. She spent all of last year looking over at me to see what I thought about every play she made. While she was doing that, she was missing out on opportunities to make plays."

Bonn Bonn wasn't missing out on any opportunities against Maryland. This was a game the Huskies could have lost, and there aren't many of those. Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis was out with the most talked-about nerve contusion in women's college basketball. Morgan Tuck is out 4-6 weeks after a surgery on her right knee.

Kiah Stokes got into foul trouble. Stefanie Dolson got into big-time foul trouble, nursing four fouls through the second half. Yet the short-handed Huskies were pulling away from Maryland in a second half that screamed, whoa baby, there could be perfection on the April horizon.

"I think we proved Monday night against Stanford we have the ability to be a great team," Auriemma said. "Tonight, I told them I wanted to prove we're a great program. Those two are not necessarily the same thing."

Great teams awe. Great programs awe in multiples. As great as Breanna Stewart was in scoring 19 points in 14 first-half minutes, great programs don't rely on an a specific individual. Great programs respond when circumstances aren't in their favor. Great programs keep turning up gems and, yes, sometimes they are filled with world-famous cinnamon rolls.

"Moriah was phenomenal tonight," Auriemma said. "She didn't feel particularly happy with the way she played in the Stanford game. She put a lot of work into the last couple days and set the tone for us defensively in the second half. Moriah and Brianna Banks were phenomenal."

A line of 15 points, on 7-of-11 shooting with four assists, no turnovers and three steals, supports Auriemma's assertion.

The first half was all about Stewie and Alyssa Thomas. Stewie is the female Dirk Nowitzki when she gets going like she did. She can slow the game down and set the pace on her terms. She can post up. She can drain the three. She finished with 26 points, but there was a point early one when she was hitting everything that it looked like Nykesha Sales' UConn record of 46 points in a game might be in jeopardy. On the other end, Thomas had 14 points and 10 rebounds in the first half.

So there it was tied at 43 in the early moments of the second half and, boom, or should we say, Bonn Bonn. The Huskies blew the doors off the game with Banks and Jefferson leading the way. The Terps had a pathetic 17 points in the second half. Auriemma joked that Bria Hartley [4-for-21, including 0-for-11 on threes] was the best player defensively on both ends, but the inside joke is the Huskies haven't even hit on all cylinders yet. This team can be even scarier when all are healthy.

As measured as Stewart can make the game look, Jefferson is the opposite. She's listed at 5-7. She looks 5-5. She's a sliver. She looks like she could eat a half-dozen Cinnabon rolls and not gain an ounce. She can break the sound barrier on the court.

Yet after leading the Huskies with 17 points in the rout of Hartford to open the season, Jefferson didn't have anything going against No. 3 Stanford. Most everybody else was good. Bonn Bonn wasn't. She shot 1-for-7, 0-for-3 on threes and had two turnovers to even out her two assists.

"I was super angry with myself," Jefferson said. "I knew I played bad the whole game, not even some of the game. But sometimes when you're in a slump, you've got to learn to give that game up and move forward."

That was a problem last year. A bounce-back game wouldn't have been in the cards. It's odd. She plays with so much excitement, as such a high-wire act, you'd think nothing bothered her. But, no, Bonn Bonn has been a worrier.

"Confidence and having fun are the biggest difference for me," Jefferson said. "One of our mottoes is, 'Play hard. Play smart. Have fun.' I wasn't having fun. I was overthinking everything. You can't really have fun if you're worried about what everybody else is talking about. I was settled in the whole game tonight. I knew I couldn't let myself get over-worked up."

Thomas, one of the premier players in college basketball, came out aggressive in the first half, making jumpers. Eventually the Huskies were able to meet their goal of keeping her out of the paint and keeping her off the free throw line. The Huskies' defensive rotation was so good in the second half, Jefferson said, it felt like they were on a string.

And twice, Jefferson got Thomas with a splash of cinnamon. She stole the ball as Thomas turned up court deep in her end and in a blink turned the steals into layups.

"I know Alyssa likes to get in the open court and run," Jefferson said. "I'm small. A lot of people don't even see me half the time. I knew when she got the ball she was looking to push it up the floor. I wanted to get in there real fast and at least slow her down."

Auriemma said he looked at his team during one timeout and he saw he was playing Stewart and four guards. That was something from 25 years ago, he said. He couldn't believe the Huskies were playing that well with that lineup. He said he had to wipe his eyes to believe it. And by the time he did, Jefferson had darted in for another score. The UConn men have Ryan Boatright and his Boat Show. The UConn women have the Bonn Bonn Show.

"Stanford, was more a case that she was trying really hard to get off to a great start," Auriemma said. "She played really well in the exhibition games, well in the Hartford game. I think it threw her for a loop a little bit when Stanford was challenging her to shoot. She is a good shooter, a really good shooter, and it got into her head a little bit.

"She's a game-changer. Not everybody can be a game-changer. She made a couple plays tonight, the steal, the drive where she had the step through, the reverse layup, makes a three. She's got a tremendous amount of ability. You come up here all the way from Dallas, and I'm sure there was some pressure on her to be good. She probably questioned last year, 'Am I good enough to play?' I think that has been answered. She knows she's good. She's fun to watch, isn't she?"

Oh, yeah, as fun as ordering a hot frosted Cinnabon at the mall.

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