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UConn WBB Weekly: Will the Huskies’ 3-point shooting improve?

Examining what’s wrong with UConn’s 3-point shooting and whether or not it’ll get better.

NCAA Womens Basketball: DePaul at Connecticut David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

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In the news

UConn and DePaul’s matchup on Jan. 31 will air on Fox — the first women’s basketball game ever on the network. Geno Auriemma and Doug Bruno both reacted to the news after Tuesday night’s game:


Will UConn’s 3-point shooting improve?

For all the positives that have come out of UConn’s first six games this season — the impressive start by Paige Bueckers and the freshmen, Olivia Nelson-Ododa’s consistency and good defensively play, to name a few — there is one glaring issue that remains: 3-point shooting.

The Huskies are making just 33 percent from beyond the arc — 103rd nationally. However, that number is boosted by the team’s 10-18 night against Xavier, which is the only game where UConn has made more than 40 percent of its threes.

Nearly all its attempts come from four players — Bueckers, Anna Makurat, Evina Westbrook and Christyn Williams. Nobody else has taken more than three.

Bueckers is the Huskies’ best shooter, hitting exactly half her shots. However, she’s only taken 18 threes, fewest of the group. Makurat is the worst at 26.9 percent while Westbrook is shooting a 36.0 percent from deep. Williams leads the team with 33 shots and makes a third of them.

Barring a completely unexpected breakout from someone else, the fate of UConn’s 3-point shooting rests in those four players’ hands. So can the Huskies improve their performance from beyond the arc? Let’s break it down.

Reasons for optimism

It’s not as if UConn is launching a three anytime it has even the slightest look. The Huskies are getting plenty of open looks — especially with Olivia Nelson-Ododa drawing more attention in the paint — they just aren’t going in. Though UConn attempted a season-high 27 threes against DePaul on Tuesday night, Geno Auriemma didn’t think his team forced anything.

“I think we get pretty good shots,” he said. “I mean, I don’t think we took any threes tonight that you will go, ‘That’s an ill advised three. That’s a bad shot.’ So we took 27 wide open threes. Next game we’re going to try to get more open than wide open. I have to figure out what that one is.”

Because of that, the Huskies are bound to get more shots to fall eventually — at least in theory. As a team, there isn’t much more UConn can do to improve its shooting, which means it falls to the players.

Auriemma believes it starts with Bueckers. The freshman doesn’t have the highest 3-point percentage on the team simply because she’s taken the fewest shots. She’s plenty talented as a shooter — which irks her head coach.

“Paige is a really, really, really good three point shooter,” Auriemma said. “So if you have a really good 3-point shooter that won’t shoot or is thinking pass-first, that’s great provided the other guys that you’re passing it to are Klay Thompson and Steph Curry. But since they’re not available, I think she needs to shoot.”

For Westbrook and Williams, it’s hard to see either improve significantly. Both players entered the year hitting 35 percent from beyond the arc in their first two seasons — right around where they’re shooting now.

That leaves Makurat as the x-factor. As a freshman, she shot 40.1 percent from three despite a slow start to the year and made at least one trey in each of her final eight games. But this year, Makurat can’t seem to find her touch from beyond the arc. She hasn’t hit more than two triples in a single game and went 0-4 against DePaul with a couple of really bad misses.

It took her some time last year to get going as well, so maybe the sophomore is just a slow starter. She can make shots in bunches — she went 8-10 from three at ECU and also made 15 triples in a four-game stretch last season — so they’re bound to start falling at some point this year...at least you’d think so.

Reasons for doubt

Bueckers and Makurat are the two biggest reasons why UConn’s three point shooting could improve. But their fortunes could fall the other way, too.

Though Bueckers has been extremely impressive through six games, she’s still a freshman and history says she’s likely to hit a wall at some point. Breanna Stewart started strong as well but tailed off after her sixth game. A rough stretch from Bueckers would hurt UConn’s shooting and the offense a whole.

Bueckers also has the fewest 3-point attempts. So even if she starts to shoot more like Auriemma wants her to, that doesn’t mean more will go in — especially if she’s getting more attention from defenses.

For Makurat, it’s possible she never finds her freshman form this season and only improves to a 30 percent mark from three. Katie Lou Samuelson made 47.5 percent from three as a junior but regressed to just 37.6 percent as a senior. If that type of drop-off can happen for one of the best shooters in program history during the prime of her career, it can certainly happen to Makurat.

This season is far from normal as well. The Huskies have already been forced to shut down once and will have played one game in 16 days when they travel to Baylor. That isn’t exactly conducive to helping anyone find a rhythm in any aspect of their game.

Forecast

Unlike last season, UConn doesn’t necessarily need shots to fall in order to win games. The Huskies can manufacture points in more ways, especially with the way Nelson-Ododa is playing down low. However, they still need to shoot well enough to force teams to respect the three-point line, otherwise defenses will sag off and clog the lane.

So will UConn improve from beyond the arc? Probably, but it’s possible that it won’t. As Auriemma said...

“Do I think we can be a better shooting team than we are right now? Yes. Yes. We should be. We can be. But maybe we’re not and maybe I just keep thinking we’re going to be, but maybe we’re not. I don’t know.”

However, all the evidence — the shot selection, more attempts from Bueckers, improvement from Makurat — points towards an improvement from deep. UConn won’t repeat as the best three point shooting team in the nation, but it should get make shots from beyond the arc eventually.


Best of social media

On Christmas Day, Olivia Nelson-Ododa made the entire team breakfast and, alongside Evina Westbrook, woke everyone up at 9 a.m. Nelson-Ododa dressed up as Santa, Westbrook as an elf.

Before each game at Gampel, a different UConn alumni announces the Huskies’ starting lineup from a video on the big screen. Napheesa Collier did it for the opener, followed by Stef Dolson and Kia Nurse. Crystal Dangerfield did the honors on Tuesday, except she was actually in the building for it.

Christyn Williams eclipsed the 1,000 point mark for her career against DePaul and since her friends and family couldn’t be there to see it live, they congratulated her in a video after the game:

Quite an awesome Christmas present:

AP Poll

  1. Stanford (—)
  2. Louisville (—)
  3. NC State (+1)
  4. UConn (-1)
  5. South Carolina (—)

Notables:

  • UConn fell a spot despite winning last week. NC State did not play.
  • DePaul stayed put at No. 18.
  • Tennessee received 10 votes.