UConn dilemma: To 3 or not to 3?

By Carl Adamec

When Moriah Jefferson took a 3-point shot with 19 seconds left Wednesday night, little did she know she was adding to the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team’s record book.

The freshman guard’s try was the 41st from behind the arc for the third-ranked Huskies in their 75-48 win over Georgetown at McDonough Arena, a school single-game record. The previous mark was 40 set three weeks earlier against Oakland (Mich.) at the XL Center in Hartford.

“I don’t think there’s an ideal number, but I know 41 is probably too many,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “But Georgetown had a pretty good defense — ‘We’re going to put five guys in the lane and let you shoot.’ And in the first half it was more our guys trying to force the ball into the lane or wait, wait, wait, wait and then with three seconds left on the shot clock get the ball in the lane. And we just said we’re passing up a lot of open shots to just throw the ball in the lane.

“What’s the point? Now the game’s going to be played at their tempo. They want to slow it down. They want the game to be 60-55. So we were much more eager to shoot the ball when we were open, and we missed a lot of easy threes. We just want a good shot. And we got 41 good threes, for the most part.”

The 3-point attempts were spread out among six players with All-American Bria Hartley leading the way with 10. Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis took nine.

The Huskies made 12, including a career high four by senior Kelly Faris.

“The defense they were playing packed it in,” Faris said. “So it’s almost like they left us open to shoot them. And I felt OK about it because we actually knocked them in.

“There are times that people leave us open and we can’t knock anything down and Coach gets on us to have somebody step up and make one. So I think we did a good job of hitting shots when we needed them and it came from all different people. So, we’d like to get the ball inside, but the second we did they had four people on them.”

En route to 33 wins, the Big East Tournament championship, and a fifth straight appearance in the NCAA Final Four, UConn launched a school record 758 attempts from 3-point land over 38 games a season ago.

Through 14 games of the 2012-13 campaign, the Huskies are almost halfway to that total.

UConn (13-1 overall, 1-1 Big East) is 128-for-340 for 37.6 percent from behind the arc. All but reserve centers Kiah Stokes and Heather Buck have tried at least seven. Mosqueda-Lewis leads the team in attempts with 76, followed by Hartley (46), Faris (46), Caroline Doty (45), Brianna Banks (37), Jefferson (35), and Breanna Stewart (33). Even 6-foot-5 center Stefanie Dolson has tried seven.

Mosqueda-Lewis is among the nation’s leaders in 3-point percentage at 50.0. Faris is at 47.8 percent. The other five are between Banks’ 37.8 percent and Dolson’s 28.6 percent.

“We’re a really good 3-point shooting team,” Auriemma said. “I’m not saying that we want to keep shooting 40 of them, but we’ve got some guys on our team that I never want them to pass up an open 3. When they’re open I want them to shoot it. I don’t care what the situation is. I don’t care if it’s the 40th one or the fourth one.

“We might lose a game down the road because of that, but we might win a bunch of games down the road because of that.”

The Huskies have outscored their opponents from behind the arc by 183 points. Purdue is the only team to take more treys than UConn (22-19) in a game. But the Boilermakers aren’t the only team to score more. Notre Dame was 6-for-12 from distance in its 73-72 win over UConn last Saturday while the Huskies were 5-for-23.

UConn is third in the Big East in 3-point attempts behind DePaul (360) and Villanova (342), though the Blue Demons have played two more games than the Huskies and Wildcats. UConn’s 128 makes and 37.6 shooting percentage lead the league.

The Huskies were one of the first teams to use the 3-pointer effectively when it became part of the game a quarter-century ago. Paced by Kerry Bascom and Kris Lamb, UConn led the nation in 3-point shooting percentage (46.3) en route to its first Big East title and NCAA Tournament appearance in 1989.

The most treys any of its seven national championship teams attempted was 753 by the 39-0 team that won it all in 2009, with All-Americans Maya Moore and Renee Montgomery combining to take 486. That club shot 37.3 percent. The 2002-04 and 2010 champions ranged from 600-663 attempts from distance while the 2000 team shot 471 and the Rebecca Lobo/Jennifer Rizzotti-led 35-0 squad from 1995 took 447.

The previous single-game mark for UConn prior to last month was 39 against Syracuse on Jan. 17, 2009.

And imagine if UConn didn’t commit 19 turnovers, including 14 in the first half, against Georgetown Wednesday night.

“We probably could’ve had 60 threes,” Auriemma said.

UConn is back in action Saturday when it faces Marquette (8-6, 0-1) at the Al McGuire Center in Milwaukee. The Golden Eagles are 14th out of 15 Big East teams in 3-point percentage defense.

USA Basketball honor
The 2012 gold-medal winning United States Olympic women’s basketball team, which was coached by Auriemma and included six UConn graduates, was named as a co-recipient of the 2012 USA Basketball Team of the Year award along with the gold-medal winning U.S. men’s team.

“Winning a gold medal during an Olympic year, as far as USA Basketball is concerned, is the culmination of four years of hard work,” Auriemma said in a statement. “So, for our men’s and women’s teams to be the team of the year is a reflection on the work USA Basketball does with all our partners. Every day, there are people working to make sure those four years end with a gold medal. I want to pass along congratulations to Coach K (Mike Krzyzkewski) and the men’s team. They are just a
bunch of super guys, and it was an honor and a thrill to be in London and watch them perform.”

The U.S. women won their fifth consecutive gold medal. Of the UConn graduates on the 2012 squad, it was the third for Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird, the second for Swin Cash, and the first for Asjha Jones, Tina Charles, and Moore. Taurasi was named USA Basketball’s Female Athlete of the Year for the third time.