The unstoppable Maya Moore

Even though Minnesota's Maya Moore had won two titles in her three seasons in the WNBA, she still thought she needed more of a kick in the rump than a pat on the back.

That's how it is with great athletes, though. When they are not competing against someone else, they compete against themselves.

So Moore decided last year that by the time the 2014 WNBA season arrived, she would be lighter and leaner. She became as meticulous about her diet as she is about most everything else in her life. Sorry, cupcakes, you're just not going to see much of Maya anymore.

"I'm being a little more efficient with what I'm putting into my body," Moore said. "Eating more vegetables, drinking more water. I took away dairy, refined sugar -- eliminated that from my everyday diet. Being conscious of eating real food as opposed to what I call fake food."

Moore might occasionally treat herself, but once she's committed to something, she stays committed. Especially when the results are so spectacular.

What we are seeing now from Moore -- 10 games of 30 points or more this season, including a franchise-record 48 on Tuesday in a double-overtime victory against Atlanta -- is someone who was already playing at an MVP level, but is still on the ascent. She's averaging 25.1 points, 8.3 rebounds and 3.5 assists, while shooting 48.9 percent from the field.

"Obviously, she's got a tremendous drive to be the best," Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. "But what I've really enjoyed about Maya each year is just her willingness to listen to what we think will make her the best, and then blending that with her own goals. I've been really impressed with that.

"Everybody thinks we're crazy when we say Maya can keep improving, but Geno [Auriemma] knows. He will tell you this. As a rookie, she could fly up and down the court, but laterally kind of have challenges. She could lunge and take herself out of position. This year, what we're seeing is a really, really mature athlete."

When Moore was at UConn, where she won two NCAA titles and was part of a 90-game winning streak, Auriemma would indeed talk about his star's high ceiling. Which she wasn't close to in college, despite being a three-time Wade Trophy winner.

That's the way it's supposed to be, though, with talents as rare as Moore. They are dazzling along each step of the development process.

"The most fun thing about Maya is watching the evolution of an athlete," Reeve said. "Her movements are concise, they make sense. She'll still do some Maya things -- gamble, go for steals. But, hey, she's a playmaker, so we let her have that freedom."

Overall, though, Moore is more disciplined on court, which reflects what she has done off court. OK, this needs some qualification. Moore was probably already in the top 1 percentile of discipline among your average humans. But now she's striving to be atop that for elite athletes.

So an improved diet and extra attention to detail on how she takes care of herself are part of her next level. You'll keep hearing the words "more efficient" a lot from Moore.

"I think I've learned the rhythm of the game, what to look for, how to anticipate the movements I need to make," she said. "Also being a bit leaner, helps me move better. And playing with less knee pain allows me to be a better defender.

"I know that's one of the biggest differences between college and now: I can get in a defensive stance and it not hurt. Of course I have to continue to take care."

Moore has long dealt with tendinitis in her knees, but she has become an expert on the best methods of relieving that: doing specific quad-strengthening exercises, icing for the appropriate amount of time and the aforementioned healthy eating.

"Being 10 pounds lighter helps," Moore said. "It's all taken some pressure off my knees."

Moore has played the past two winters in China, and she actually finds it easier to keep to her diet over there.

"It's probably harder to do here because there is more opportunity to eat poorly everywhere we go," Moore said of the avalanche of junk food we're surrounded by. "It's really about preparation when it comes to nutrition. You have to take the time to get the right food and snacks. You have to go to the grocery store and spend time meal-planning. But if you invest in your diet, it's so worth it."

Admittedly, most players could make that investment but still not be Maya Moore. We're talking about a top-shelf ability. But there's not a single player -- or regular person, for that matter -- who wouldn't see some overall improvement in how they feel by eating better.

Just don't expect an improved diet would let you drive professional defenders insane trying to guard you. But it has done that for Moore, and Minnesota has really needed it. Forward Rebekkah Brunson just returned to the lineup after being out all season with knee issues. She scored 17 points in Minnesota's victory Tuesday. Seimone Augustus, who has missed nine games with bursitis in her knee, is scheduled to return Friday against San Antonio.

The Lynx at full strength are the team most people picked to repeat as league champions. The fact they've still played as well as they have -- at 18-6, they trail West-leading Phoenix by 2½ games -- without a couple of key pieces regularly in the lineup shows how cohesive a team the Lynx are. And also how valuable Moore has been, especially when Minnesota has most depended on her.

Moore and the Lynx will play Sunday afternoon at Connecticut, a chance for UConn fans to come out to watch one of their legends. They'll see all the "Maya-makes-it-look-easy stuff" they so enjoyed while she was with the Huskies. But she has become an even better edition of Maya.

"Maybe at the beginning of the year, it took the league a little bit of time to catch up -- 'Oh, we really better look out for Maya,'" Reeve said. "But when you have the league's full attention every game and you still can do what Maya is doing, you're pretty special."