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What does Moriah Jefferson have in common with Gehrig, McCartney?

The words sidekick and understudy don't do Moriah Jefferson justice. So let's just call her the country's second-best player. Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

Would you rather be Lou Gehrig or Ira Flagstead? How about Paul McCartney or Murry Kellum?

Flagstead was the best hitter on the 1927 Boston Red Sox, a team that finished 59 games behind the New York Yankees. Kellum's song "Long Tall Texan" was already on the Billboard charts on Jan. 18, 1964, the week the Beatles made their first appearance on the list.

You presumably know what roles Gehrig and McCartney played in the above events, even if the first names that comes to mind for many are Babe Ruth and John Lennon, respectively.

Sometimes second-best is another way of saying better than everyone else.

Moriah Jefferson isn't going to be the best player on the Connecticut roster. That much has been true since the day she showed up on campus in the same class as Breanna Stewart, the next in a line of transformational talents such as Tamika Catchings, Candace Parker, Brittney Griner and Elena Delle Donne, who all moved the sport forward. But Jefferson was the best player on the court in Tampa in the national championship game a season ago. Stewart acknowledged as much after she was named Final Four Most Outstanding Player, her lobbying effort not a display of false humility but the opinion of a basketball player who knew how well Jefferson performed.

Sidekick, understudy, supporting role? The terms have too much baggage. Second-best player in the country? That sounds more like it, and it's where Jefferson ended up in espnW's rankings.

But is she the best incarnation of the Gehrig and McCartney phenomenon in recent memory?

We'll wait until after this season to figure out exactly where the Stewart and Jefferson partnership ranks in history. Below you'll find an attempt at ranking the best such seasons of the past two decades, beginning with the 1995-96 season. The only rule is that any combination, i.e. Brittney Griner and Odyssey Sims, can appear only once.

1. Tina Charles, Connecticut, 2009-10

The headliner: Maya Moore
The line on Charles: 18.9 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 2.4 BPG, 62 percent from the floor

We start with a case in which there was substantial debate as to which player was which in the partnership. Both were first-team All-Americans. Charles won AP Payer of the Year, but Moore won her second consecutive Wade Trophy as the Huskies went 39-0. The tiebreaker, all else being equal and in the spirit of Ruth and Lennon, is that Moore had a headliner's aura. Still, Charles dominated on both ends of the court in her senior season. She ranked fifth nationally in field goal percentage despite attempting 150 more shots than any of the players ahead of her.


2. Tamika Catchings, Tennessee, 1997-98

The headliner: Chamique Holdsclaw
The line on Catchings: 18.2 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 2.6 SPG, 1.6 BPG, 54 percent from the floor

It might be the greatest complementary season and debut season. In addition to the numbers listed for a team that went 39-0, Catchings also led the Lady Vols in 3-pointers and got to the free throw line just as many times as Holdsclaw (who averaged 23.5 PPG en route to AP Player of the Year). And while Holdsclaw was named Most Outstanding Player at the Final Four, Catchings still ranks among the NCAA all-time leaders with 27 points in the title game. Both players were first-team All-Americans the following season, while Catchings actually settled for second-team honors in the 1997-98 season, but the freshman was brilliant right out of the gates.


3. Odyssey Sims, Baylor, 2011-12

The headliner: Brittney Griner
The line on Sims: 14.9 PPG, 4.4 APG, 3.0 SPG, 40 percent from 3-point line

There are at least two worthy options when it comes to Sims and Griner, as they shared All-American honors in back-to-back seasons. But the partnership produced a 40-0 record and a national title during the 2011-12 season. Sims had more assists and fewer turnovers the next season, but she did everything well in the unbeaten campaign. Her 118 steals remained a career high and her offensive numbers were the best of her three seasons with Griner.


4. Janel McCarville, Minnesota, 2003-04

The headliner: Lindsay Whalen
The line on McCarville: 16.1 PPG, 10.8 RPG, 2.9 APG, 2.9 SPG, 1.9 BPG

It's rare that a program as much an outsider as Minnesota can infiltrate the ruling class and play for a national championship. Then again, Whalen and McCarville were rare. While seven missed games due to injury cost Whalen when it came to national and conference player of the year honors, she was the headliner at 20.5 PPG, 5.4 APG and 5.1 RPG. But you didn't need both hands to count the players nationally who were more productive than a center who did the work inside and still posted assists and steals like McCarville.


5. Svetlana Abrosimova, Connecticut, 1999-2000

The headliner: Shea Ralph
The line on Abrosimova: 13.4 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 4.2 APG, 1.7 SPG

It's one of the few instances on this list in which both players earned first-team AP All-American honors. This was also the rare complete season in a stretch of years unkind to several Huskies, Abrosimova and Ralph prominently. While Ralph was Big East player of the year (Abrosimova won the previous season), the latter's all-around contributions on a team that also included Bird, Cash and Jones are apparent. After splitting earlier meetings with Tennessee, Abrosimova was named Final Four Most Outstanding Player when Connecticut won the rubber match for the title.


6. Clarisse Machanguana, Old Dominion, 1996-97

The headliner: Ticha Penicheiro
The line on Machanguana: 19.9 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 2.1 SPG, 64 percent from the floor

Penicheiro wouldn't win the Wade Trophy until the following season, but she was already a two-time conference player of the year and the driving force behind Old Dominion's 34-2 season that ended as national runners-up. It helped, of course, that she had someone such as Machanguana on the other end of many of those passes. The athletic post also accumulated plenty of accolades of her own, including MVP of the conference tournament and AP second-team All-America.


7. Nykesha Sales, Connecticut, 1996-97

The headliner: Kara Wolters
The line on Sales: 16.4 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 4.2 SPG, 3.3 APG

She would go on to average better than 20 points per game a season later, including a program-record 46 points in a win against Stanford, but here she shared the scoring load with Wolters, who was the AP Player of the Year (and the Big East Player of the Year). Sales ranked second on the Huskies not only in points but also in rebounds, assists and 3-pointers, and her team-high 143 steals rank 20th in Division I history for a single season. Unfortunately, while unbeaten entering the NCAA tournament, the Huskies lost a regional final against Tennessee.


8. Sylvia Fowles, LSU, 2005-06

The headliner: Seimone Augustus
The line of Fowles: 15.9 PPG, 11.6 RPG, 2.1 BPG, 61 percent from the floor

With the likes of Jessica Davenport, Crystal Langhorne, Courtney Paris, Sophia Young and, of course, Candace Parker around, Fowles managed only third-team AP All-America honors and wasn't among the WBCA's 10 honorees. That was their loss. Like Jefferson, if possible given the size difference, she was also overshadowed by her teammate, with Augustus repeating as AP Player of the Year. But it was also the season Fowles, a sophomore, came into her own as a defensive star who was nonetheless a factor at both ends for a Final Four team.


9. Diana Taurasi, Connecticut, 2001-02

The headliner: Sue Bird
The line on Taurasi: 14.9 PPG, 5.3 APG, 4.1 RPG, 1.3 SPG, 1.2 BPG

This team all but broke college basketball, dominating like few, if any, before or since. So of course it flummoxes this list, too. The truth is you can take the performances of Bird, Swin Cash, Asjha Jones and Taurasi, order them any way you like and be as correct as anyone else (and even that shortchanges Tamika Williams). That, in turn, limits how high any one of them can climb on this list. Since Bird swept the Big East and AP player of the year awards and the Wade Trophy, she gets top billing. Taurasi's career highs in field goal percentage, 3-point field goal percentage and assists all came from the 2001-02 season, setting the stage for her legend.


10. Chiney Ogwumike, Stanford, 2011-12

The headliner: Nneka Ogwumike
The line on Chiney: 15.0 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 1.2 BPG, 58 percent from the floor

You knew the family connection would make an appearance at some point, right? Without Kayla Pedersen and Jeanette Pohlen around in 2011-12, Chiney, in her second season, took a step up from what was in its own right a productive freshman season. In doing so, she kept pace with Nneka's ascension. The sisters averaged 37.5 PPG and 20.6 RPG between them, roughly eight points and five rebounds better than a season earlier. The two actually outscored Griner and Sims in a Final Four meeting, but with Chiney in foul trouble, Baylor's perfect season continued.

Honorable mention

2013-14: Jewell Loyd, Notre Dame (Headliner: Kayla McBride)
2012-13: Kayla McBride, Notre Dame (Headliner: Skylar Diggins)
2009-10: Jayne Appel, Stanford (Headliner: Nneka Ogwumike)
1999-00: Semeka Randall, Tennessee (Headliner: Tamika Catchings)
1998-99: Ukari Figgs, Purdue (Headliner: Stephanie White)