Maya Moore, USA cap perfect run

Last year, Maya Moore "traveled" far into the future. The magic of professional make-up artists transformed her into "Betty Lou," the old lady who shows she hasn't lost her basketball mojo in a Pepsi Max commercial with similarly aged NBA players Kyrie Irving and Nate Robinson.

When Moore looked in the mirror and saw herself in artificial elderly form, her competitiveness came out.

"I hope I'm going to look better than that," she said with a grin during this past WNBA season. "Both of my grandmothers are aging well, and my mom is, too. I've got some good genes."

No one -- least of all Team USA's opponents at the FIBA World Championship for Women -- will dispute that. The United States won the gold medal Sunday with a 77-64 victory over Spain, and Moore was named the tournament's most valuable player.

She was also the WNBA's MVP this season. And even though her Minnesota Lynx didn't repeat as WNBA champions -- falling in the Western Conference finals to eventual champ Phoenix -- 2014 has been a special year for Moore. Who is not, by the way, a "Betty Lou" in athletic terms, either. She just turned 25 in June.

"I'm grateful to be able to contribute to this phenomenal team," said Moore, who had 18 points and four rebounds Sunday. "You are playing with people you are probably going to be competing against for the majority of your career. To enjoy that camaraderie for a month that we're together is pretty memorable."

Indeed, not just Moore, but the entire U.S. team performed well throughout the world championship. Sunday's game with first-time finalist Spain could have been a contest if the Americans had let up at all. But they didn't. Not Sunday, nor any other day of the tournament held in Turkey.

"A lot of people look at this team and see a lot of talent and think it's going to be easy," American Sue Bird said. "But it's not."

Bird, who turns 34 later this month, actually is closer to "Betty Lou" in athletic years. This was her U.S.-record fourth appearance in the world championship and her third gold medal in this event.

She also has a bronze, which came in 2006, when the Americans had what for them was a down year. Bird said she "still feels mad" about the 2006 world championship, when the Americans were without center Lisa Leslie, who was then still the national team's stalwart in the middle. She'd had a family emergency and missed that tournament. The United States definitely missed Leslie in their 2006 semifinal with Russia, and fell 75-68.

So it can happen. The U.S. team -- despite having the edge in talent and depth over the rest of the world -- really can fall short if the Americans don't play well.

But there seemed no danger of that happening this year. Sunday's score wasn't at all indicative of how dominant the Americans were against Spain. The United States played efficiently in all six of its world championship games. Sure, the Americans might have had a few moments where they were a bit lax defensively near the end of blowout games, but nothing really to quibble about.

Even for noted perfectionist Geno Auriemma, who won his second world championship gold medal as coach of the U.S. team. Auriemma acknowledged that the biggest challenge the Americans always face is a limited amount of time practicing together as a unit before the world championship or the Olympic Games.

"We're just not ready for everything that happens," he said. "Some things we struggle with. We have a lot of great offensive players, and we try to take advantage of that."

Moore is indeed a great offensive player, and has been for a long time. She has worked hard, though, on becoming better on the defensive end. You could say the same for some of the other American standouts, including Diana Taurasi, Lindsay Whalen and Candice Dupree.

Brittney Griner, playing in her first world championship, was a very effective defender collegiately in part just because of her incredible natural gifts: being so mobile and athletic at 6-foot-8. But in just two years as a pro, Griner has become a wiser and more savvy defender as well.

She was the WNBA's defensive player of the year this season, helping the Mercury win that franchise's third title, along with Taurasi and Dupree. Griner had the least amount of practice time with the U.S. team -- joining the Americans shortly before the tournament began after an eye injury delayed her arrival in Turkey -- but seemed to fit in very well.

Credit Griner, Auriemma and the rest of the team for that. Griner talked about how much everyone helped her get acclimated as quickly as possible, including fellow center Tina Charles. Griner had 11 points and Charles 10 against Spain. Taurasi led the way in assists with eight.

Whalen, who shot 57.1 percent from the field for the tournament, had 12 points Sunday, and Seimone Augustus scored 10. Their Lynx teammate Moore averaged a team-best 15.3 points for the tournament.

The U.S. starters set the tone in this world championship, and the "next five" were just as good. The team's two youngest players, Odyssey Sims and Breanna Stewart, didn't get a lot of game action, but weren't expected to. They were on the squad to get experience for the future.

Now the Americans will disperse. Stewart will return to class at UConn, where the junior and Auriemma will try to win that program's 10th NCAA title and third in a row this season. The 11 professional players on the U.S. squad will move on to their overseas teams or take a little time off before doing so.

There is not ever much time to savor these titles; the women's basketball calendar doesn't allow for that. But all of the U.S. players should try -- as a group and individually -- to reflect on what they've just accomplished: a ninth world championship for their country. And when they really are the age of "Betty Lou," they'll have golden memories of 2014.