Kentucky's confusion rises as shooting percentage falls

jtipton@herald-leader.comMarch 5, 2014 

  • Cold Cats

    The worst-shooting Kentucky teams since the start of the three-point era in 1986-87:

    Season Pct. Record

    1999-00 .423 23-10

    1989-90 .439 14-14

    1990-91 .442 22-6

    2005-06 .447 22-13

    2001-02 .448 22-10

    2013-14 .452 22-8

    2010-11 .459 29-9

    1994-95 .460 28-5

    2004-05 .464 28-6

    1986-87 .468 18-11

    1993-94 .468 27-7

As if determined to make the most of his first collegiate start, Jon Hood looked like Quick Draw McGraw on Senior Night. He finished three of Kentucky's first five possessions with three-point shots. He made one.

"All that was (is) I don't pass up an open shot," Hood said after UK beat Alabama 55-48 Tuesday. "Never run away from a shot. If it's there, I'm going to let it go. That's just the way I've always played, and tonight was no exception."

To break out of its current shooting woes, Kentucky might be wise to follow Hood's example. Perhaps, the Cats should pause a bit longer to reload and check the action on their guns, but fire away with confidence.

"I think guys right now have a conscience," Hood said. "And that's something as a shooter (and) as a scorer, you can't have. You have to constantly think next-next, and keep going and keep moving on to the next shot."

Jarrod Polson, the other senior honoree, noted how some UK shooters looked "tentative" about shooting from the perimeter in the Alabama game. That suggests a lack of confidence, which can almost preordain a miss.

"When you start to become tentative, that's when your shot gets even worse," Polson told reporters. "You guys probably saw a lot of that tonight."

Of course, Kentucky lately has done enough bricklaying to construct a great wall of doubt. For instance:

■ In the last four games, UK has made only 34.4 percent of its shots (and 23.1 percent of three-point attempts — 15 of 65).

■ In the last two first halves, UK has made 11 of 54 shots (20.4 percent).

■ The overall 45.2 percent shooting puts UK on pace for its fourth-worst accuracy in the last 23 seasons.

■ The season's 31.4-percent shooting on three-pointers is on pace for the second-worst accuracy since the rule went into effect in 1986-87.

"I think we're still confident in our shots," Polson said after Kentucky made 32.7 percent of its shots against Alabama. "For whatever reason, we didn't make any tonight."

UK's accuracy was its second-worst of the season (the worst was the 26.9 percent at South Carolina on Saturday). No surprise that UK put the ball in the basket the two fewest times of the season against South Carolina (14) and Alabama (16).

"I don't know if there's a snowball effect or not," Polson said. "I don't really know the answers why we haven't been shooting as well as we had been."

Opponents increasingly are mindful of tilting defenses into the lane and accepting, if not inviting, Kentucky shots from the perimeter.

"In the first half, our guys did a really good job of trying to squeeze the floor a little bit and keep them from taking advantage of the size advantage they had," Alabama Coach Anthony Grant said of UK's 6-for-25 shooting in the first half. He also noted that in the clutch, UK shot better (10-for-24 in the second half).

This led UK Coach John Calipari to note his team's perseverance. "When we get down 12 or 15 ... they fight and claw and get back in the game," he said. "So my thing is, play that way the whole time. Play like you're down 15."

James Young, who made only one of 11 shots (one of 10 from three-point range) against Alabama, served as a convenient example of what ails UK's shooting.

"I just said, '(If) you're not going to shoot open shots, you've got to come out,'" Calipari said. "... He and Aaron (Harrison) both had open shots. You've got to shoot it. You've got to be confident. You don't have to shoot a three. Step in. You don't even have to bounce it. Just don't stand out wide."

Calipari noted that Young's only basket was timely: a three-pointer from the left corner to put UK ahead 53-47 with 4:10 left. He also benefited from Alabama freshman Shannon Hale's ill-advised foul, which gave Young the chance to make three free throws.

"At the end of the day, if you're a shooter — and we know James is a shooter — you're going to have to knock down shots for us to go far in the tournament," Polson said. "We can't say don't shoot as much because we know he can get hot at any time."

Young, who has made nine of 35 shots in the last three games, is not alone as a poor shooter of late. The aforementioned Aaron Harrison has made eight of 36 shots in the same span. Andrew Harrison has made 11 of 37 in the last four games. Alex Poythress has made one of 13 in the last three games.

All the misses only further encourage opponents to concentrate on containing low-post strongman Julius Randle and blunt UK's reliance on offensive rebounding, the latter converting the best of the misses.

"They're so focused on our 'bigs,'" Polson said. "Especially Julius. Whenever Julius gets the ball, he's got three guys on him."

To improve Kentucky's shooting accuracy, Polson and Hood recommended nothing more radical than going to the practice gym and shooting more shots.

"Making a lot of shots, not just putting them up," Hood said. "It's something that comes natural to some guys, and some guys have to work on it."

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com.

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