By Carl Adamec
Moriah Jefferson didn’t know how to react when she made a basket or a sharp pass for an assist last Sunday and 6,200 people cheered.
The University of Connecticut women’s basketball team’s freshman guard is still learning about home-court advantage.
“I was home-schooled so every game was away,” Jefferson said with a smile Thursday. “It was different having people cheer for me rather than the other team.”
Jefferson will be in her UConn road blue uniform Sunday, though it will be as close to a home game as she’ll have had in her native state.
Jefferson, from Glenn Heights, Texas, is hoping to have between 20 and 40 friends and family members at Reed Arena in College Station Sunday when the second-ranked Huskies face No. 16 Texas A&M.
“It will be exciting and challenging,” Jefferson said. “It’s a big game, national TV and everything, and I’ll have a lot of people there. It should be fun.”
College Station is about a two-hour ride from her hometown. While Jefferson has spent the week at practice trying to improve her game, she’s also been fielding ticket requests for Sunday.
“I’ve had so many text messages about getting tickets, and I’m like, ‘I don’t get that many,’ ” Jefferson said.
Each player receives up to four tickets. Jefferson’s classmates on the Huskies said they would be willing to help.
“She can have mine. I don’t have any friends in Texas,” Breanna Stewart said.
“I do have a cousin that lives in Texas but I don’t know how close he is to College Station,” Morgan Tuck said. “If he’s far away, Moriah can have all mine.”
Perhaps Jefferson can get some support from some of the Aggies. She calls Texas A&M freshman Peyton Little her best friend and she grew up with freshman Jordan Jones. She also played with Chelsea Jennings, Courtney Williams, and Courtney Walker.
“I know their whole team pretty much,” Jefferson said. “It won’t be different than usual playing against them other than we’ll be in a college setting. It will be fun playing against those guys. But when
we’re playing, we’re enemies and not friends. On the court it’s business. Off the court we’re friends.”
It was 18 months ago that Jefferson made her oral commitment to UConn, choosing the Huskies over Baylor and Texas A&M. It was a decision that still has some people around her shaking their heads.
“Everybody asked me why would I come so far when I have Baylor and A&M and all the Texas schools could go to,” Jefferson said. “For me, it was different. When I came here I fell in love with it.
“There were people that said, ‘You’re not going to make it,’ or, ‘You’ll be back in a couple of months.’ But I’m still here and I’m not going anywhere. There was a lot of pressure to stay near home. But it wasn’t what I wanted to do.”
Jefferson made her regular season debut for UConn in its 103-39 win over College of Charleston at Gampel Pavilion last Sunday. She overcame some early miscues and fouls to finish with four points, four rebounds, and five assists in 23 minutes off the bench.
With All-American Bria Hartley out with her ankle injury for a second straight game Sunday, it’s another chance for Jefferson to step up to a challenge.
“I hope Moriah enjoys it,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “She’ll have a lot of family and friends there and sometimes that works both ways. You play great or you get all anxious about it and play lousy. It’s a great opportunity for her.”
Of course, it’s the first road test for the Huskies’ freshmen.
“We won’t get the chance to play in front of our families that often so it means a lot to us when we get the chance,” Tuck said.
Texas A&M, meanwhile, has struggled with youth and a tough opening schedule. The Aggies (0-2) have seven freshmen on their roster and have already faced two Top 10 opponents, losing at No. 8 Louisville 47-45 on Nov. 9 and at home to No. 9 Penn State 63-58 Wednesday.
“We have to be ready for them,” Tuck said. No doubt, Jefferson will be. “She’s really excited,” Stewart said. “I know I would be if I lived in Texas. She’s expecting a lot of people there will be supporting
As they say, there’s no place like home.