UNCASVILLE, Conn. -- Moriah Jefferson has always been filled with positive energy.
Over nine seasons -- five years scholastically with THESA (Texas Homeschool Educators Sports Association) and four years in college with the University of Connecticut -- her teams never lost the final game of their postseason.
But in her second year with the WNBA's San Antonio Stars, she is being tested -- on and off the court -- like never before. The Stars Thursday night's home game with the Indiana Fever at 2-18, five games clear for the worst record in the league and seven games behind the final playoff spot with 14 games to play.
"There are just mental breakdowns that happen every game where we go five or six minutes and it gets away from us," Jefferson said. "If we cut those out, some things would be different. We're talented all across the board and you can see that with our players. But we need to be mentally focused for 40 minutes to win."
Many of the losses have played out like last Sunday's against the Connecticut Sun at Mohegan Sun Arena. San Antonio led by seven early in the third quarter before turnovers -- including a pair by Jefferson -- turned the game in the Sun's favor.
"We're young, but at some point that has to go away and you learn how to win," Jefferson said. "You're a professional. We're learning from our mistakes, though. If we do that it will come together."
Jefferson is averaging 10.2 points, shooting 52.4 percent from the floor and 44.4 percent from 3-point land. She ranks in the top 10 in the league in assists (eighth at 4.4) and steals (third at 1.8). But after spending the offseason playing in Turkey, she missed the first three games for the Stars with a knee injury and two more last week due to a concussion.
In four years at UConn, she missed one out of 156 games. It was her second concussion in 24 months with her first coming in the 2015 Pan American Games gold-medal game against Canada following a collision with her UConn teammate, Canadian Kia Nurse.
"Thank God I didn't hit Kia again because her head is a lot bigger," Jefferson said with a laugh. "I got stepped on in the game and my head hit the floor. I'm fine now. My trainers made sure I was physically and mentally ready to play before I got back on the court.
"It's tough to not play and sit there knowing that I could help them. But it is teaching me patience. My body does need a rest. I've played a long time. Things happen and you can't control them but it's how you come back from them."
Jefferson has also spent much of the season coming off the bench behind rookie Kelsey Plum.
"There's a lot of stuff going on with me personally, physically," Jefferson said. "Everyone knows that I'm taking care of some things. It's not a big deal. I don't mind not starting. Whenever I come in, I come in. As long as we're all on the court and we're all playing together, it's fine with me."
Jefferson did start in the loss to the Atlanta Dream Tuesday night for the injured Kayla McBride. But backing up Plum seems somewhat baffling as the No. 1 pick in the 2017 WNBA Draft has not come close to living up to the hype she had coming out of the University of Washington as the NCAA's Division I all-time leading scorer.
Still, Jefferson unequivocally supports first-year San Antonio coach Vickie Johnson, who replaced veteran Dan Hughes.
"VJ is amazing and an incredible coach," Jefferson said. "She does everything she needs to do to have us prepared. Then it's our job to go out and execute when we're on the court. A lot of people don't see what she does. She's one of the smartest coaches I've played for. It's not her fault we have lapses and mental breakdowns. That responsibility is on us. We have to step up to the plate."
Jefferson, the overall No. 2 pick behind UConn teammate Breanna Stewart in the 2016 WNBA Draft, was a unanimous selection to the all-rookie team a year ago.
She believes her experiences in San Antonio and Turkey have helped her.
"I've been in situations before so I'm a better leader and smarter," Jefferson said. "It helps a lot when you've played against these players before. You learn their tendencies. You know the game will be faster, quicker, and stronger. Just being smarter with the ball, coming off screens, knowing where my teammates want the ball, things like that."
Jefferson will return to Turkey this winter to complete a two-year deal she signed in 2016.
But first she hopes for some success with the Stars following this weekend's All-Star break. San Antonio was the only team in the league to not have a player selected for the Game to be played Saturday in Seattle.
"The second half will be like a new season," Jefferson said. "You go back to the drawing board and make sure we do the things we need to so we'll be ready to play."
USA U-19s Win Final Exhibition
University of Oregon sophomore Ruthy Hebard had 15 points and 11 rebounds Wednesday as the United States U-19 national team defeated Latvia 64-56 to win the 2017 Refrion Cup title in Spilimbergo, Italy.
UConn sophomore guard Crystal Dangerfield had seven points for the Americans, who closed the game with a 10-3 run. UConn freshman wing Megan Walker chipped in two points and four rebounds.
Team USA will scrimmage France Thursday night. It begins its bid for the FIBA U-19 World Cup gold medal Saturday at 12:30 p.m. (EDT) when it takes on Mali in Group A pool play in Udine, Italy.
According to Dangerfield, there are still some things to work on in the next two days.
"Making sure that we are still staying strong defensively, especially on the rebounding side of that," she said. "Making sure that we are making the easy play, taking care of the ball and scoring. We missed a few easy layups early in the game today, and I think that hurt us."