Men's Basketball

Kentucky women's basketball: Three-point prowess no accident

Dayton's Amber Deane looked for a shot as Kentucky's Jennifer O'Neill defended, while Dayton's Ally Malott trailed the play.
Dayton's Amber Deane looked for a shot as Kentucky's Jennifer O'Neill defended, while Dayton's Ally Malott trailed the play. Associated Press

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Even as a three-point shot clangs off the rim, the coaches on Kentucky's bench are clapping and cheering.

"Great shot, great shot," they yell to the player on the court.

"I don't say much to them when they miss a shot," UK assistant coach Matt Insell said on Thursday morning. "They all know they missed it. They don't need me to remind them. ... The worst thing you can do to a shooter after she misses a shot is talk to her about missing the shot."

Insell's had to do far less encouraging and far more celebrating on the Kentucky sideline this season, especially when it's come to three-point shooting.

Behind sharpshooters A'dia Mathies and Jennifer O'Neill, the Cats have made a school-record 229 three-pointers, surpassing the previous record of 211 makes set last season.

UK hopes it still has a few more games to add to that total, starting in the Bridgeport Regional semifinals on Saturday against Delaware (32-3) and its 27-game win streak.

The duo of Mathies and O'Neill has combined to hit 132 three-pointers this season, more than 116 of the 343 Division I teams in the country. Together, they have made just 12 fewer three-pointers than Delaware's entire team.

It wasn't that UK's rims got softer or the players randomly found their shooting rhythm this season. UK's three-point shooting prowess started this summer when the team set a goal of improving last season's 32 percent shooting by four percent.

The Cats (29-5) haven't exactly gotten to 36 percent from long range, but Insell knew that was a long shot.

For the season, UK is just up to 33.1 percent, but in Southeastern Conference play that number jumped to 34.5 percent, and in SEC Tournament play, UK's total rose to 38 percent.

The incremental increases came from trying for another big goal this summer, when Insell encouraged each of his guards to make 500 three-pointers five days a week.

"I put a lofty number out there hoping they'd shoot somewhere between 200 and 500," he said. "This summer you could tell that this group was hungry and they wanted to do it."

Mathies is one of the rare exceptions on the four percent increase. Her personal percentage has gone up nearly five percent from 37.8 percent last season.

In fact, the player once thought of as a slasher is now known as a shooter. Just ask the opposing bench, which almost always screams out "shooter" when Mathies gets her hands on the ball.

This season, the reformed slasher actually has a better percentage from three-point range (42.7 percent) than she does from the field (42.6 percent). Her current three-point percentage is tops in the SEC and sixth best in the nation.

"Every time she shoots it, I think it's going in," Insell said of Mathies, who set a career mark with six made three-pointers in UK's last game. "It's not something that's always been there. She's really worked hard to get there."

When asked what she'd done to improve her three-point shooting so dramatically, Mathies said simply: "Just shoot."

"That's really the only thing I did," she said. "I just got in the gym and shot more this year."

The 5-foot-9 senior guard said when a couple go in, her confidence rises.

"I expect it to go in," she said. "Games where it doesn't, I'm not too worried about it. I get in more shots and I know that it eventually is going to go in."

Other players have seen Mathies getting in extra shots before and after practice and it's driven them to do the same, Insell said.

O'Neill is averaging 1.88 made three-pointers a game and has helped UK develop another outside threat.

"Her ability to make contested shots separates Jennifer from a lot of players in the country," Insell said. "Her threes are with a hand in her face most of the time."

When asked about the Cats' long-range improvement, head coach Matthew Mitchell said it isn't rocket science.

UK has been able to recruit top-notch shooters and the inside presence of players like Samarie Walker an DeNesha Stallworth has given the guards more time to get shots off. The Cats have hit double-digit three-pointers in five games this season.

No matter who is doing the shooting, it helps the whole team when one or two start falling, Mathies said.

"When you get confidence and you see buckets going in, it makes it grow even more," she said. "I'm glad (they're) going in right now."


Kentucky vs. Delaware

What: NCAA Tournament Bridgeport (Conn.) Regional semifinal

When: Saturday, noon


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