Early in the first quarter Friday night, Moriah Jefferson got the ball on her side of the floor with plenty of space in front of her. Stepping up to meet her was the legendary Tamika Catchings, one of the best defensive players in the history of the WNBA.
But the No. 2 overall pick in this year’s draft wasn’t fazed. Jefferson hit Catchings with the in-and-out crossover, then stopped on a dime, extending the ball out in front of her with her right hand. The bait was set, and Catchings bit. Hard. Catchings went for the block, except as soon as she did, Jefferson wasn’t there. The pint-sized guard was already spinning the other way, leaving Catchings looking foolish, and Jefferson wide open for the simple little push shot.
Schooling a legend like this would have been the highlight of game on most nights, especially for a rookie. Jefferson, however, wasn’t anywhere close to being done with the showstopping plays.
Just a minute later, in fact, she was back at it, freezing Briann January with a crossover, then blowing right past her to get to the rim.
All night, Jefferson was terrorizing the Fever. Whether it was her forays into the lane, or getting out on the break for easy buckets, Indiana had no answer for the Stars’ point guard. Somehow, however, Jefferson took it to another level in the closing minutes.
The Stars entered the fourth quarter down seven, and eventually trailed by as many 11 points at one point in the quarter. With just 2:34 left, the Fever still held a 10-point advantage, and looked to be cruising to a vital victory. From that point on, however, it was the Moriah Jefferson show (with an important cameo from Kayla McBride).
After McBride hit a few clutch buckets, the Stars still faced a six-point deficit with 30 seconds remaining. Enter Jefferson stage right. She may not be big, but she sure is quick, and Jefferson proved it once again by darting right to the rim for an and-one to cut the Fever’s lead to just three.
Which is where the lead remained as Jefferson dribbled up top. Eight seconds left, seven, a screen from McBride, both defenders leave Jefferson, four, three, two, one point six. Tie game.
At this point Jefferson had badly shook a legend on her home floor, set a new career-high, lead her team back from a six-point hole with 30 seconds to play, and sent the game to overtime with a late three on the road. But still she wasn’t done.
Splitting a double team and slicing through the lane for the Stars’ first bucket of OT, Jefferson had her team’s last eight points. And still, she was not done. With the game tied again in the closing seconds of overtime, the Stars ran an elevator screen to get McBride the ball. Erlana Larkins did a great job switching, however, trapping McBride in the corner and forcing an unlikely off-balance heave.
Double overtime here we co–“Jefferson! Put it in!”
Coming into Friday’s game, Jefferson had just five offensive rebounds in her career, but she crashed the glass like a young Lisa Leslie on the final play. The putback gave her a career-high 31 points, but most importantly, it gave the Stars the win.
It’s been a rough start to the season for the young Stars, but with Friday’s win, they’re just three games out of the playoff picture with over half the season remaining still to be played. It will be a long road into contention, but maybe Jefferson’s heroics will be the just the spark they need to jump-start their playoff push.