Men's Basketball

EKU presents Kentucky a unique challenge: 30 three-point shots per game

Senior guard Timmy Knipp (22) is averaging 10 points for the Colonels in his first season as a full-time starter.
Senior guard Timmy Knipp (22) is averaging 10 points for the Colonels in his first season as a full-time starter. Herald-Leader

Kentucky Coach John Calipari was not kidding — or even slightly exaggerating — when he said that Eastern Kentucky shoots 30 three-pointers a game.

That's exactly what the Colonels have done so far this season: Six games, 180 shots from beyond the arc.

When he coached at UK, Rick Pitino called the three-pointer an "equalizer." But Eastern Kentucky Coach Jeff Neubauer suggested that three-point shooting might not put his team on equal footing with Kentucky on Sunday night.

"It doesn't make all situations equal," Neubauer said Saturday.

Perhaps, the three-pointer had more of a compensatory quality when Pitino came to UK in 1989 and college coaches had not yet fully grasped what the shot could mean.

Neubauer learned to appreciate three-point baskets when he worked eight seasons as an assistant for John Beilein, first at Richmond and then at West Virginia.

"He's always been one of the best (coaches) in the country in spreading the court offensively," Neubauer said of Beilein.

Twice in Neubauer's previous nine seasons as coach, Eastern Kentucky has led the nation in three-point shooting accuracy.

"We're not the elite shooting team we've been at certain times," he said. "I do hope we'll grow into that. ... Everyone we put on the court is a three-point shooter. So we need guys to shoot it well."

The Colonels — who "play Princeton" basketball, Calipari said — certainly shoot it often. Almost half the team's shots (46.9 percent, to be precise) come from beyond the arc. EKU's average of 10.53 three-point baskets per game ranked seventh nationally in NCAA statistics updated Friday.

Eastern Kentucky has taken as few as 24 three-point shots (at BYU) and as many as 37 (against Valparaiso on Wednesday).

Through eight games, no opponent's three-point shooting has seriously threatened Kentucky. Opponents have averaged 4.5 three-pointers and shot from beyond the arc with 25.3-percent accuracy.

Best ever

Neubauer sounded astounded that Kentucky's first eight opponents had made only 28.2 percent of their shots.

"They are the best defensive team in the country," the EKU coach said, "and more than likely the best defensive team in the history of college basketball."

Of the 28.2-percent inaccuracy, Neubauer said, "That is absolutely amazing, remarkable, tremendous. You can't find words for 28-percent field goal defense over an eight-game period. ... That is unheard of in college basketball in this day and age. Or ever."

Ever?

"If I were a member of the media, what I'd be doing is looking at what teams in the history of college basketball have held opponents to, maybe, 37 percent over the course of a season. Or 36 percent. You're not going to find any team in the history of college basketball that held their opponents to 28-percent shooting."

According to the NCAA record book, the best field-goal defense since 1978 was Stanford's in 1999-2000. Opponents made 35.2 percent of their shots.

You have to go back to the 1950-51 season to find a Kentucky team that held opponents to worse shooting. Opponents shot with 27.0-percent accuracy that season. Of course, that was a different era. UK made only 34.2 percent of its shots en route to a national championship.

Remember me?

Neubauer was present when Calipari achieved his first postseason victory as a coach. It came in the first round of the 1991 NIT. UMass beat a La Salle team that had Neubauer as one of its guards.

"My job as a guard at La Salle was to get the ball over halfcourt and throw it to good players," Neubauer said.

The EKU coach said he and Calipari have reminisced about the game.

"There was a dunk by one of the UMass players that Cal remembers specifically," Neubauer said. "So there was a moment, even though that's over 20 years ago, that does stand out after all the basketball that he's endured."

Etc.

Kentucky has made only three of 19 three-point shots in its last two games. Perhaps the Cats can seek help from Tony Delk, who will work the game with Tom Hart for the SEC Network. Delk holds the UK record for three-point baskets in a career with 283.

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