Wolf Pack struggling with 3-point shooting
Special to the Nevada Appeal
Joey Shaw could only sit there, smile and shake his head.
“You know, everybody knows you are supposed to hit those wide-open 3-pointers,” the Nevada Wolf Pack senior said Saturday night after a 74-61 victory over the Wagner Seahawks. “So it’s real frustrating.”
The Wolf Pack’s frustrations from 3-point range showed up again Saturday night despite the easy victory over Wagner. The Pack made just three of its 14 attempts from beyond the arc. Starters Brandon Fields, Luke Babbitt and Shaw were a combined 1-for-9 from long distance.
“We’re getting good looks,” said Shaw, who was 0-for-4 from 3-point distance against Wagner. “I don’t know what’s happening. They are just not going down.”
The Wolf Pack, which will face BYU Tuesday afternoon (noon) and either Nebraska or Tulsa on Wednesday at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, has struggled mightily from 3-point range over its last seven games.
Those last seven games have seen the Pack shoot just 23 percent (27-of-115) from beyond the arc. By comparison, the Pack shot 46 percent (25-of-54) on 3’s in its first three games.
Wolf Pack coach David Carter, though, is convinced the recent 3-point numbers are merely an aberration.
“You just have to keep shooting,” Carter said Saturday, repeating a familiar response to questions about the Pack’s 3-point struggles this year. “You can’t stop shooting. You get out of a shooting slump by shooting your way out of it.”
The Pack, now 6-4, has gone 4-3 in its last seven games but that is more of an indication of the quality of the opposition. The struggles with 3’s the past two games (a combined 5-for-27) are a big reason why the victories over Eastern Washington (73-70) and Wagner (Nevada led just 69-61 with two minutes to go) were a lot closer than anyone expected.
“We just have to keep working on it,” Shaw said. “We know we can make those shots.”
The Wolf Pack finds itself seventh in the nine-team Western Athletic Conference in 3-point shooting at .308 percent (52-of-169). The Pack, on the other hand, is first in the WAC in shooting from inside the 3-point line at .546 percent (248-of-454). The last two games, for example, the Pack shot a sizzling .627 (54-of-86) from 2-point range against Eastern Washington and Wagner.
Despite the confidence from Carter and the players that the Pack will shoot itself out of its slump, the Pack’s struggles from 3-point distance are now a two-year concern. Last year’s team, after all, finished seventh in the WAC on 3’s at .306 percent. Babbitt, who shot .429 as a freshman, is the only returning player this year that shot better than 32 percent from beyond the arc in 2008-09.
The expectation, though, was that Armon Johnson (.278 last year), Shaw (.319), Fields (.221) and reserve Ray Kraemer (.308) would improve their accuracy on 3’s this year with either Carter’s new up-tempo offensive style and/or increased playing time.
That theory, however, has really only worked out for only Kraemer, the team’s best 3-point shooter at .454 percent (15-for-33) and Shaw (13-of-39 this year for a .333 percent). Babbitt has made just 6-of-20 3-pointers (.300), Johnson has made just 4-of-15 (.267) and Fields is at .267 (12-of-45).
Most everyone on the roster right now, though, is in a slump from 3-point range.
Shaw has made just one of his last 10 3-pointers over his last three games, Babbitt is 3-of-14 over the last seven games, Johnson is 2-of-12 over the last seven games, Kraemer is just 3-of-11 over the last four games and Fields is just 1-of-13 over his last four games, though that one successful shot beat Eastern Washington with 4.3 seconds to play.
A telling number is the mere five successful 3-pointers for Johnson and Babbitt over the last 14 games combined for the two scoring machines. Babbitt’s struggles are likely just temporary but Johnson’s woes are turning into a long-term concern. The point guard was deadly from 3-point range in high school at Hug High and also during his freshman year at Nevada when he shot .346. The last two years, though, he is shooting a mere .276 percent (29-of-105).
Carter, though, would prefer that the Pack throw away the stat sheet and not look at the numbers right now. He certainly doesn’t want any of them to start getting shy about throwing up shots from long distance. The Pack, after all, because of its lack of size, cannot rely on working the ball into the paint for easy shots every night, like they did against Wagner. This ius a team that is going to need the 3-pointer to win a lot of big games this year, especially once WAC play begins in January.
“We’re getting great looks,” Carter said. “Sometimes that’s the toughest shot to make, when you are so wide open like that. I think that is part of the problem. The guys are so wide open that they are just rushing their shots a little. We have to remind them to get their feet set and take their time and not rush things.
“But we’re taking good shots. We’re just not knocking them down right now.”