UK Men's Basketball

John Clay: Cats say outside shooting will heat up eventually

Kentucky guard Devin Booker shot a jumper over Eastern Kentucky guard Ja'Mill Powell on Sunday as the top-ranked Cats beat the Colonels, 82-49.
Kentucky guard Devin Booker shot a jumper over Eastern Kentucky guard Ja'Mill Powell on Sunday as the top-ranked Cats beat the Colonels, 82-49. Herald-Leader

It's a fan's job to worry.

Doesn't matter how well the fan's beloved team is playing. Doesn't matter how much the fan's team is dominating. Doesn't matter how promising a fan's team looks for down the road.

It's a fan's job to worry.

For the fan of the current top-ranked Kentucky basketball team, the team holding opponents to a silly field goal percentage, the team throwing down dunks like it was playing against air, the team beating up on foes by a margin of 30 or 40 points per game, they can still spot the tiniest of scratches on their Maserati.

Kentucky fans are worried about perimeter shooting.

After all, in the Cats' 82-49 stomping of Eastern Kentucky on Sunday night in Rupp Arena, the winning team made just three of 13 three-pointers.

The Cats didn't extend the school's streak to 909 games with at least one made three-pointer until Aaron Harrison swished a triple from the left side with 2:55 remaining.

This, it should be noted, came after Friday night's 63-51 win over sixth-ranked Texas in which the Cats didn't make their first three-pointer until Andrew Harrison swished the net from the right of the key with 2:45 remaining. That was the only three-pointer Kentucky hit all game.

We will pause now to let Kentucky fans bite their nails.

By my unofficial count, the Cats threw down 14 dunks against the smaller Colonels, who were without their star 6-foot-8 forward Eric Stutz. With the dunks, UK shot 56.9 percent. Exclude the jams and the Cats made 19 of 44 shots for 43.2 percent.

As well, in the past three games, the Cats have made just six of 32 from behind the three-point line.

No fan is ever worry-free, but is this a cause for legitimate concern?

"Well, we would obviously like to make more," said UK assistant John Robic, handling the post-game press conference duties for a voiceless John Calipari, who has been under the weather lately.

"I think that the threes that we took, there may have been just a couple that weren't at the right time. Maybe forced a little bit."

By game's end, the team was actually trying to force up threes to keep the consecutive game streak going.

No wonder, what with the fans obviously anxious in their seats in Rupp. The fans were growing anxious on Twitter. With about five minutes left in the game, some fans on hand started audible chants of "Three."

"It is weird," said freshman Trey Lyles when asked if it was crazy to hear such fan chants. "But out here at Rupp you expect the unexpected."

"I don't even know if the players knew," Robic said, "but the place got loud when Aaron hit that three."

The players knew. On the bench, Devin Booker was telling his teammates that the streak was in jeopardy. Then again, Booker missed all six of his three-point shots, so maybe he didn't want the end of the streak to fall on him.

"Devin was telling us in the huddle we had to hit one," said Lyles, who admitted he shot a three late just to try and keep the streak alive. "I was open, plus the streak was on the line, so I shot it. I didn't make it, my teammates came out and Aaron hit one and Karl hit another one."

That would be Karl-Anthony Towns, who nailed his first three-pointer of the year.

But back to picking nits, how much of a concern is perimeter shooting for this team? Back at the Champions Classic in Indianapolis, before the Cats pounded Kansas 72-40, ESPN's newest analyst, Shane Battier, said he felt like that shooting was the biggest question mark for this team.

Aaron Harrison, whose clutch threes fueled the Cats' NCAA Tournament run last season, has struggled with his outside shot so far in 2014-15. The sophomore is just 9-for-39 on the year from three-point range after going 1-for-3 Sunday night.

"It's just repetition," said Robic. "We'll knock them down when needed."

So far, anyway, there's been no need for worry.

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