Notebook: Big game excites Jefferson

By Carl Adamec

STORRS, Conn. — Moriah Jefferson doesn’t have the date circled on her calendar. But the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team’s freshman guard has been thinking about Monday night’s game against defending national champion Baylor for awhile.

“You look forward to the bigger games but you can’t look ahead because that’s when you mess up in the games right in front of you,” Jefferson said. “I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was excited for this game.”

Jefferson played some AAU ball with Baylor All-Americans Brittney Griner and Odyssey Sims and is very familiar with the Bears’ roster and coach Kim Mulkey. The Glenn Heights, Texas, native, chose to attend UConn over Baylor and Texas A&M during the recruiting process.

“That’s kind of what the dream is when you’re in high school in Texas is to be recruited by Baylor,” Jefferson said. “If you’re recruited by Baylor, you know that you’re a top player. They have a great program.”

Jefferson enters the contest with the nation’s No. 1 team coming off perhaps her best game and certainly her best week of the season.

Inserted into Saturday’s game at Rutgers at the first television time out, Jefferson helped spark a rally from an early 10-point deficit. She finished with 10 points, five rebounds, three assists, three steals, and no turnovers in 30 minutes of a 65-45 Big East win over the Scarlet Knights. Against Providence last Tuesday, she had 13 points and five steals in 23 minutes of a 105-49 rout of the Friars.

But Rutgers and Providence do not have anyone that resembles Baylor’s Sims, who many say is the best point guard in the country. Jefferson is looking forward to that challenge.

“Me and Odyssey, we’re cool,” Jefferson said. “But it’s the game. It’s UConn against Baylor and not an individual thing. It’s one of the most exciting games of the year so we’re excited about it.”

Scheduling matters
That UConn and Baylor agreed to a two-game deal a year ago to continue the regular season series that started in 2010 seems like a no-brainer. But there was some reservation from the Baylor camp about ESPN wanting the game played in the middle of the conference schedule in February.

“Everything we do from October 15 until the end of February gets us ready for March,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “I don’t know how a game at 9 o’clock on a Monday night in February impacts our attempt to win the Big East title.”

But eventually Mulkey and Baylor agreed to renew the series and here the Bears are.

“The timing of it, going on the road, a two-and-a-half hour flight, getting back at 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning … Just the timing of it,” Mulkey said. “But I agreed to it because it is good for women’s basketball. I don’t know Geno’s Big East schedule, but I know the timing of ours is that I don’t want anything to take away from us having an opportunity to clinch an outright championship the next game when we get back from UConn. Initially I said, no. Then I had a lot of phone calls from television, ESPN people, to give me their push why we should and I agreed to do it.

“I think it goes against what you’re trying to do with your program. Our program, really selfishly, is the most important thing in January and February to try to get to the postseason and to win a conference championship. But at the same time you feel a sense of a responsibility to do what’s good for the women’s game and keep the fan interest there and I understand that too. Which one is more important to me? It’s going to be Baylor University. But we’ll go and we’ll give it our best shot and I’m sure they will too.”

Baylor has a four-game lead in the Big 12 race with four games to go and can clinch the outright title with a win over Texas this Saturday. UConn trails Notre Dame by one game with four to go in the Big East race. The Huskies visit South Bend for the regular season finale March 4.

Free throws
Two highly-regarded high school juniors — Kathryn Westbeld out of Fairmont High in Kettering, Ohio, and Sierra Calhoun out of Christ the King High in Middle Village, N.Y. — took in Sunday’s practice at Gampel Pavilion. Westbeld will be at the Baylor game as will UConn’s lone signee for next season Saniya Chong … UConn All-American Bria Hartley said she was feeling better Sunday after playing just the first 4:26 against Rutgers Saturday … UConn is 5-5 when facing the No. 1 team. The Huskies snapped a three-game losing streak against top-ranked teams with their 61-35 win at Stanford Dec. 29 … UConn and Baylor have two common opponents — Stanford and Notre Dame. UConn defeated Stanford and lost to Notre Dame. Baylor defeated Notre Dame and lost to Stanford.