With The All-Star Game On The Line, Maya Moore Found Another Level

UNCASVILLE, Conn. -- At the end of last year's WNBA All-Star Game -- a "shootout" in the desert that the East team won in overtime over the West at Phoenix -- Maya Moore appeared a bit irritated.

Not truly mad, mind you. But it was clear that even a so-called meaningless exhibition wasn't entirely meaningless for Moore. The Minnesota star already has two WNBA titles and a league MVP award, while just in her fifth season as a pro. Bottom line: She always plays to win. Maybe if she was playing some 5-year-old in Candy Land, she might throw the game to the kid. But ... don't necessarily count on that.

"We can have fun, but at the end of the day, I want to win. And the way the game ended last year, going into overtime, we were more invested. It was like, 'Let's pull this out.'" Maya Moore on All-Star win

"I don't like to lose," she said. "We can have fun, but at the end of the day, I want to win. And the way the game ended last year, going into overtime, we were more invested. It was like, 'Let's pull this out.' Of course I'm going to remember that last time we lost."

So when Saturday's All-Star Game at Mohegan Sun Arena was close to going into the final minutes, Moore got that look of, "Yeah, I'm not losing this thing again."

And she didn't. Led by 30 points from Moore -- including her own 8-0 run in the final two minutes -- the West won 117-112. Moore, who was 10-of-16 from the field, including six 3-pointers, picked up another trophy, the All-Star Game MVP, and reminded all the fans here in Connecticut of how special a player she is.

Moore's UConn Huskies career included two NCAA titles and a 90-game winning streak, and she's more than lived up to her status as the WNBA's No. 1 draft pick in 2011. As great a player as the Huskies fans saw in Moore in her four seasons in Storrs, Connecticut, the grown-up version in Minnesota is even more refined.

"You want it to be a good game, that's the first thing; it's just really fun to play well in front of a crowd that's going to appreciate it," Moore said of Saturday's contest. "Minnesota fans and these fans are both near and dear to my heart.

"If I were to do this in front of any other fans that weren't Minnesota's, I would want it to be in Connecticut."

Two of Moore's Lynx teammates -- Seimone Augustus and Lindsay Whalen -- were supposed to be here at the All-Star Game but couldn't play because of injuries. Augustus is out until at least mid-August after having arthroscopic surgery on her knee. Whalen sustained an eye injury in a game last weekend and skipped the All-Star Game as a precautionary measure. She's supposed to return this coming week.

The ability to stay healthy has been a big factor in why Minnesota has been so good since Moore joined the team in 2011, and she leads the way in that category too. She's yet to miss a regular-season or playoff game in her WNBA career.

The Lynx came into this year as the preseason favorite to win the WNBA title, and they are leading the West at 12-4. And while Moore tops the team in scoring with 20.7 points per game and is second in rebounding (7.3 RPG), she does not feel overburdened.

"One of the beautiful things about our team is it's not really all on me," Moore said. "It may seem that way, just because I have the ability to score the ball. But there are so many things my teammates do well.

"The game when Whalen went down, Rebekkah Brunson and Asjha Jones each had four assists. The job is going to get done what we need to do. It's just going to look a little different at times."

One thing that always looks exactly the same, though, is Moore's effort. She's expanded her offensive game in the time since coming to national prominence as a UConn freshman in 2007-08. She's also gotten into top-notch shape in the past two years and become a more by-the-book defensive player -- in a good way, that is. Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve wanted Moore to take fewer big chances on defense and instead be more of a lock-down defender.

Moore won the MVP of the league last year, averaging 23.9 points and 8.1 rebounds. But the Lynx were defeated in the Western Conference finals by Phoenix, which went on to win the league title. Moore wasn't done for 2014, though, as she was the top scorer for Team USA, which won the World Championship in Turkey at the start of October.

Moore turned 26 in June, and so far has shown no sign of the wear and tear of near year-round play getting to her. Performances such as Saturday's -- in which she took over the game when it needed taking over -- showed that as talented as the WNBA is, there is a level Moore can go to that many can't.

Yes, it was an exhibition with little defense. It was supposed to be fun. There wasn't anything serious on the line. But Moore and the Lynx will get back to the real thing on Wednesday when they host Los Angeles.

"Lindsay should be rejoining us," Moore said of Whalen. "We will miss Seimone until she gets back, but we've had to play without players before. That's not fun, but we come together and step up collectively.

"When we're tested like that, and squeezed, to see that come out is cool. We're just going to have to fight for that every day."

The All-Star Game doesn't mean anything, really. And yet there is something about the last few minutes of Saturday's game that will linger in the minds of people who saw it. It's another game Maya Moore took over and won. That's just what she does.