For Maya Moore, it was simply a matter of coming home. Moore, the all-time scoring leader in UConn women’s basketball history, scored a record 30 points to lead the West team to a wild-and-wooly 117-112 victory in the WNBA All-Star Game before 8,214 fans at the Mohegan Sun Arena on Saturday afternoon. The game was also televised to a national audience on ABC.
Moore, the defending WNBA Most Valuable Player after leading the Minnesota Lynx to the league championship last season, took the game over—literally—during crunch time. Down by one point with about two minutes left in regulation, Moore took the reins and scored eight straight points to give her West squad a seven-point advantage. After the East cut the margin to four, Moore, who was named the game’s MVP, knocked one in from downtown Norwich to drive the final spike into the heart of the East squad.
Not to imply that this was some sort of death-squad grudge match or anything. The game was completely devoid of defense (excepting, perhaps three blocked shots by Phoenix’s Brtitney Griner; the East also had blocked shots from four players—Tina Charles, Angel McCoughtry, Emma Meesseman, and the Sun’s own Alex Bentley). “Hey, it was a basketball game, right?” said Griner after the game. “That’s what I do.”
“It was a blast,” said Moore, who played her college ball 30 miles or so up Route 32 in Storrs. “The game’s on the line… one-point game… Let’s go out and play, see who wins.
“But every point counted,” continued the UConn great who led the Huskies to a record 90-straight games and two national titles. “We needed to come out of a couple of holes there that we got ourselves in. It was just fun. The last few minutes we were definitely trying to win and turned it up a little bit, run a little bit faster, cut a little bit harder and make sure the ball goes in.
As much as Moore’s record-breaking performance (her 30 points set a new All-Star Game standard for points scored breaking the old mark set last year, when Shoni Schimmel pumped in 29), this game will be remembered as the last All-Star Game in the illustrious career of Tamika Catchings. The future Hall-of-Famer and former Tennessee star announced that she plans to retire at the end of the 2015 season, and there will be no WNBA All-Star Game next year in deference to the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
In the second period, Catchings, a 10-time All-Star who has been named to the All-WNBA Defensive Team five times, became the league’s all-time All-Star scoring leader with a put-back after blocking an attempted dunk by Griner. And Griner, a seven-footer not exactly known for her perimeter play, took five—count ‘em—five three-point attempts, making one in the process.
“I don’t know a player that doesn’t practice shooting threes, honestly,” said Griner, who led Baylor to the 2012 national championship and was named Most Outstanding Player of the tournament. “Every big wants to shoot threes. If coach would let me, I would. But it’s not something I really take serious.”
While this was Catchings’ swan song, the young talent on the floor proved that the WNBA will continue to be a vibrant league for many years to come. Among those “Generation Next” players putting on a show were Griner (21 points, nine boards three blocked shots) and Elena Delle Donne of the Chicago Sky (16 points, eight rebounds), who has been voted an All-Star starter for three straight years, but was forced to sit out the game her first two seasons because of injuries.
“I’m excited just for the future,” said Catchings. “This game, everybody talked about kind of passing on that torch. From the beginning for us it was Dawn [Staley] and Sheryl [Swoopes] that passed the torch on to us. Before that in between we had Katie Smith and Tina Thompson, then it came to us. And at the end of our group is Cappie [Pondexter]. And then you go into the Candace Parkers, the Elena Delle Donnes and Maya and Skylars [Wiggins]. We’ve come a long way from the beginning.”
Indeed, there were 10 first-time All-Stars playing in this year’s game—a group that included former UConn favorite Stephanie Dolson. Another of those up-and-coming stars, Alex Bentley of the Connecticut Sun, was playing in front of her home crowd. Bentley was acquired from the Atlanta Dream prior to the season in a three-way trade with the Washington Mystics that included Kara Lawson—a former Sun star and part of the WNBA’s “old guard.”
“Man, I’ve been dreaming for days like this all my life,” said Bentley, who was named to the 2013 WNBA All-Rookie Team with the Dream. “I’ve been wanting to play basketball since I was 5 or 6 years old. I used to go to the Indiana Fever games and wanted to be in their shoes…wanted to be in Tamika Catchings’ shoes. So it’s pretty surreal for me today to be able to play with the greats of the game. As Tina [Charles] said, you get to see a different side of the players. It’s an incredible experience.”