STORY & PHOTOS BY GLENN NELSON
SEATTLE, Wash. - During a dizzying, sometimes delirious 11-day stretch, against six of the nation's best teams, Maya Moore has been playing a game of oneupsmanship - with herself. Every game was better, more dramatic, more unbelievable than the last. And if she hadn't already, Moore now officially is inducted into the what-did-she-do-this-time category of athletes, that level of Michael or Candace or Lebron, where the names are singular and the deeds sensational.
A day after virtually sleepwalking to 27 points, 15 rebounds and a mind-boggling number of key defensive plays during the final 1:07 of overtime in a victory over an extremely talented team from Winter Haven, Fla., Moore does this: Scores 38 of Collins Hill's 45 first-half points, makes 17 of 28 shots, then later helps play keepaway during the final minutes of a 74-63 victory over No. 11 St. Elizabeth of Wimington, Del., with her total a scant two points from 50.
It was for Maya Moore a quintessential performance - enough to help her team win, but more than most any other athlete, female or male, could possibly deliver.
"We didn't need any points," Moore said, explaining her shotless final minutes to an incredulous pack of sportswriters afterward. "It was our game plan that, if we got ahead, we'd hold the ball, so that's what we did."
Wonder if it was in the game plan to gobble up six offensive boards and score 15 points in the first quarter, then drill a trio of three-pointers when the defense backed off and score another 21 in the second, to rise and shoot over her defender, Khadijah Rushdan, a USA Basketball teammate and one of the nation's top stoppers, or slalom through the St. Elizabeth defense for layups? Asked if his team ran into a buzzsaw, St. Elizabeth coach Tom Ferrier replied, "How about a tornado?" Yet Collins Hill needed every Maya Moore whirlwind, and were unable to break the game open until midway through the fourth quarter.
Somehow you get the impression that the worst thing to happen to St. Elizabeth was Moore, the perfectionist, shooting just 12 of 32 the day before against Winter Haven. Never mind that she had every right to be out of her mind with fatigue, the nationally broadcast performance sent shockwaves up and down the East Coast, most notably on the University of Connecticut campus, where Moore will spend her next four years.
"I knew she'd come out with some zest," Collins Hill coach Tracey Tipton said of her star. "She's one of those rare type of people who self-evaluates and, when something doesn't go well, she makes it right."
Khadijah Rushdan is helped off the court
Really, you could have crossed Wednesday's game off the list after its final 67 seconds, during which the 6-foot-1 Moore blocked a shot and transported the ball downcourt for a layup, set up a Jordan Jones baseline jumper, stole a pass and scored the game-winning shot, then preserved the victory with a block of Amber Smith's shot attempt with 3.8 seconds left. That late flurry truly was what saved Collins Hill's unbeaten season and No. 1 national ranking.
St. Elizabeth, alas, wasn't going to have as many answers for Moore as Winter Haven did before it. Ferrier virtually sacrificed his best offensive player, Rushdan, in an effort to slow Moore and Rushdan was pinned with her third foul late in the first half. Ferrier tried defenders with lesser pedigrees than Rushdan - 5-11 senior Morgan McGill and 6-0 sophomore Milana Gilbert - with similar results.
Last March, St. Elizabeth endured a 50-point outburst from Elena DelleDonne, the No. 1 player nationally in the 2008 class, during the Delaware state championship game, but Ferrier said Moore is quicker and a lot more physical. Plus, Moore had gotten a good 10 hours of sleep the night before.
"I felt a lot better, physically," she said. "I had more legs today."
Better, no doubt, than Rushdan, the No. 10 player in the 2007 class, according to HoopGurlz.com. The St. Elizabeth guard had 28 often-sensational points but got tangled late in the game with Collins Hill's Taylor Dalrymple during a rebound, banged her head hard on the floor and had to be helped into the locker room. Tests for a concussion were negative, according to Ferrier, and Rushdan suffered a "large knot" above her left eye.
Add Rushdan's injury to the many bruised ego and broken dreams Moore has left in her wake during the past 11 days that were equal parts liberation and death march.
As Moore ambled over to meet with the press on Thursday night, she was pecking the end of a text on her cellphone.
"President Bush?" a reporter asked.
"That would be cool," Moore replied.
And maybe not so inappropriate.
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Glenn Nelson is the publisher of HoopGurlz.com and the editor-in-chief of Scout Media (www.Scout.com), an online sports network and magazine-publishing company and subsidiary of Fox Interactive Media. Glenn also founded and coached
the Dragons and Northwest HoopGurlz select girl's basketball teams. He previously was a longtime, national-award-winning basketball columnist and writer for The Seattle
Times. His work also has appeared in several national magazines and books. He is co-author of "Rising Stars: The Ten Best Players in the NBA" (Rosen Publishing, 2002). He
can be reached at email@example.com.