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Maya Moore put up incredible numbers all season for Minnesota. Now she's got her first WNBA MVP award.

Moore earned the league's most valuable player on Thursday, hours before the Lynx opened their Western Conference semifinals playoff series with the San Antonio Stars.

"It's a great feeling to be recognized for all the hard work that I've put in," said Moore in a phone interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday night. "I think of all the people who have helped me in my journey as a basketball player. They should be recognized with this award. It means so much to have the respect of the people who watch the game and love the game."

Moore led the league in scoring, averaging a career-best 23.9 points. She set a WNBA record by scoring at least 30 points 12 times, including in four straight games. The scoring mark was the third-highest average in league history, trailing only Phoenix's Diana Taurasi's 25.3 points in 2006 and 24.1 points in 2008.

Accepting the trophy roughly 90 minutes before the Lynx faced the Stars, Moore's only lament was the timing, having to talk individual honors, while trying to focus on the team goal of repeating as WNBA champs.

"It's definitely awkward for me," Moore said. "I kind of jump back to Big East competition where right before the Big East tournament, awards were being handed out and it was funny, awkward timing trying to keep your mind focused on something. This is such an awesome moment that I do want to put some thought into how to best celebrate this, but it makes me think of all the help that I have."

Moore received 35 of the 38 first place votes, surpassing Taurasi and Atlanta's Angel McCoughtry. Los Angeles' Candace Parker was fourth and Phoenix's Brittney Griner finished fifth.

"When she was a senior in college, Geno (Auriemma) described Maya to be similar to a shark, where if you punch her in the face, she goes away. I'm really proud to say that you can't punch Maya in the face anymore," Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve said. "She's going to make you pay. She's going to take the hit, she's going to get the layup. So that's been the evolution of Maya."

The MVP award is the latest accolade for Moore, who won two national championships at Connecticut and was instrumental in the Huskies' record 90-game winning streak. She also won gold medals in the 2010 world championship and 2012 London Olympics.

The WNBA's top draft pick in 2011, Moore finished second in voting last season before earning the finals MVP honor.

"Maya is the Michael Jordan of this league," Tulsa Shock coach Fred Williams said after Moore had 32 points, nine rebounds and five assists against his team in July.

Moore grew up idolizing Jordan and represents his Nike brand.

"When I think of Michael Jordan, I think of course of a winner, someone who is a great leader," Moore said. "He was super competitive, had a tireless work ethic. He was also great teammate who made the players around him better. It's a great compliment."

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