- Graham Hays, espnW.com
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Lindsey Moore's earliest years as a basketball fan in the Seattle area came in the final seasons of Gary Payton's reign with the Sonics. A generation of aspiring point guards in the Pacific Northwest mimicked his moves and mannerisms.
But although not quite a full-fledged basketball heretic, Moore watched with at least divided loyalties.
"It was hard because I totally loved Gary Payton's game, too," Moore said, "The whole defensive mentality that he had, like 'Welcome to my gym, may I take your ball?' Trash talking -- personally, I don't trash talk, but just the confidence he exuded, I really admired that. But offensively, I just think Jason Kidd's always been my boy."
Spoken like someone whose first instinct is to pass. And whose second instinct is to pass some more.
As Moore enters her final NCAA tournament, the Nebraska senior is one of the best passers in the college game. Among players in the tournament, only Kansas' Angel Goodrich and Notre Dame's Skylar Diggins have more career assists. Only eight players in the field average more assists per game this season. Moore is No. 22 in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio, the top-ranked Big Ten player in that measure of efficiency.
Nebraska junior Jordan Hooper learned to keep her hands up before she learned much else about her teammate.
"It was probably her ability to pass and see everything," Hooper recalled of her first impression of Moore. "She'll see the coach make a call when she's facing [away from her]. She sees everything. That was the big thing."
And yet, of those eight point guards in the tournament who average more assists per game than Moore, only Diggins averages more points per game (in fact, at 15 points per game this season, Moore also happens to average more than Kidd has in all but four of his 18 NBA seasons). More than Odyssey Sims, Alex Bentley, Haley Steed or Chelsea Gray before her injury, Moore is asked to be both distributor and finisher. She either scored or assisted on 43 percent of Nebraska's field goals in the regular season and conference tournament. Not even Diggins, supreme in almost every measure of point guard play, must do that for her team.
"I don't know that you can ever control Lindsey Moore," said Purdue assistant coach Christy Smith, herself a standout point guard at Arkansas. "She is just a great player. You try to stop her from doing one thing -- you stop her from shooting the 3, she's going to drive on you. Now you try and stop her drive, she's going to pick you apart and find the open players. She's a very, very good point guard who is able to do it all."
Moore didn't need to do everything when she was a freshman, the youthful starting point guard for a team that completed an undefeated regular season and entered the 2010 NCAA tournament with a No. 1 seed. Moore played more minutes than any other player on that team, more even than All-American and player-of-the-year candidate Kelsey Griffin, but she attempted fewer than five shots per game.
Without Griffin, Cory Montgomery, Yvonne Turner and others in the seasons that followed, her mindset had to change.
"It's been hard because I've always been a pass-first point guard," Moore said. "My coach, even in high school, told me, 'You need to shoot more.' I understood I needed to shoot more and I could be a good option, but it was more about passing. I definitely think I've had to take on the mindset of being an attacker and a scorer and not just pass."
What helped -- what helped make Moore the kind of player who in turn makes Nebraska a sleeper as a No. 6 seed this season in the same half of its region as third-seeded Texas A&M and No. 2 seed Duke -- is that it wasn't the first time she had to figure out how to adjust.
Moore was part of what surely ranks as one of the best prep backcourts in recent memory at Kentwood High School in suburban Seattle. There she played alongside Courtney Vandersloot, the former Gonzaga All-American and WNBA lottery pick who is now one of the league's assist leaders with the Chicago Sky. It was only as a junior, after Vandersloot moved on to college, that Moore found herself asked to carry the load.
As a senior, she led Kentwood to its first state championship.
"I was used to Courtney just kind of doing everything and being the playmaker," Moore said. "And then that junior year, I had to step up and be that playmaker, so that's when my assists started to go down, but my scoring increased. My senior year, I just decided I can do both, and I started to figure it out."
She followed the same path in Lincoln. As a freshman, she shot 36 percent from the field, 29 percent from the 3-point line and 70 percent from the free throw line. She enters Saturday's game (ESPN2, 6:30 p.m. ET) against 11th-seeded Chattanooga shooting 48 percent from the field, 40 percent from the 3-point line and 80 percent from the free throw line. With freshman Rachel Theriot the heir apparent at point guard, Moore is able at times to play off the ball and look to score for a team that shoots just 39 percent when you take out her contributions.
Which is not to say that, even if she knows she can't pass up shots, her heart isn't still in making the pass. She will always be the kid who emulated Kidd. In three of her four college seasons, a teammate averaged at least 18.9 points per game. And although Griffin and Hooper are distinctly different scorers, they shared a point guard who doesn't try just to get them the ball but to get them the ball where they can do the most with it.
She can score like a combo guard, but she will always talk like a point guard.
"They're very different, but they both are really effective in what they do," Moore said. "Kelsey wanted it more in the low block, even midpost, and just to go to work. Hooper wants to get an open shot on the 3-point line or a jumper. So it's very different, just knowing who wants it different places, but they're both really effective in the areas they want to catch it in.
"That's why they want it there; they're able to do so much with it when the ball is in the right place for them."
That's ultimately a point guard's responsibility, to put the ball in the right place to give her team the best chance to score. Even, as Moore has learned, if that means keeping it in her own hands.