Chris Walker is likely never going to be the coach who takes away his team’s green light from the 3-point line.
After all, it was during his time as a point guard at Villanova in 1990 that Walker etched his name into the NCAA tournament record books by attempting 20 3-pointers in a game, still the second-highest total in history behind the 22 Loyola Marymount’s Jeff Fryer attempted one year earlier. (For the record, Walker made six that day.)
But 23 years later, Walker is grappling with ways to reduce a growing 3-point disparity that has been a thorn in Texas Tech’s side on both ends of the floor.
Entering its game against Iowa State at 8 p.m. today inside United Spirit Arena, Tech is shooting 26.6 percent from 3-point range, the worst mark in the Big 12 Conference. And while the Red Raiders are watching their shots draw iron, they are seeing those of their opponents drop through the net at a 37.1 percent clip, also good for last in the league.
Shrinking that gap will be key not only for the Red Raiders’ hopes against the Cyclones — the second-best 3-point shooting team in the Big 12 at 35.8 percent — but also for their chances of being more competitive during the latter two-thirds of their league schedule.
“You can’t not shoot them at all,” Walker said. “That’s just not possible. We work on it every day. At some point, hopefully, we’re going to get better at it. The only thing we can do is get to the foul line. That’s what we’re working on and trying to maximize every opportunity to get to the foul line and make a couple free throws. I really believe as time goes on that we’ll get better at making shots.”
Tech’s struggles from the perimeter haven’t always been for a lack of good looks. Against Oklahoma State on Saturday, when Tech shot 3 of 17 from 3-point range, the Red Raiders’ offense produced a number of opportunities, but few were converted. Walker said emerging from a slump can be more of a mental process than a physical one, especially within the collective psyche of a young squad.
“With a young team, an inexperienced team, they get down,” Walker said. “That’s why you see some of the lopsided losses. They get down because they can’t score. On the road it’s even harder. I just think that as time goes on, we can get them a little more confident offensively, and obviously try to play the best defense we can. I think that will help.”
One player who will continue to be relied upon to launch shots from deep is Dusty Hannahs. The freshman guard, despite a 1-of-6 performance against Oklahoma State, is the third-best 3-point shooter in the Big 12 at 39.7 percent. He said he isn’t the type of player to lose confidence after one off night.
“I’m not just going to be able to knock down shots every time,” Hannahs said, “and teams are going to have games where it’s not going in. You just try to have a short-term memory. Next game we might go from whatever percentage we shot (against Oklahoma State, 17.6) up to 50 percent, 60 percent or something like that. You never know with how basketball is.”
Defending the 3-point line better, meanwhile, will come down to effort, Walker and Tech players said — both on the court and in the film room.
“We have a tendency sometimes of being lazy in a game,” Tech guard Josh Gray said. “We don’t get out to the open man. We don’t contest shots. We’ve been really holding each other accountable in practice to get out and contest every shot.”
Iowa State’s Tyrus McGee is the Big 12’s top 3-point shooter at 45.3 percent. The senior had a banner day in Lubbock last season, connecting on 6 of 11 3-pointers en route to 20 points in the Cyclones’ 76-52 win. He’s not the only one on the team who can light it up, though. Three Iowa State players are ranked in the top 11 in the league in 3-point shooting percentage.
And the Cyclones chuck it from deep often. Their 436 attempts from 3-point range are 90 more than any other team in the Big 12 entering Wednesday’s action. In overtime loss against Kansas to open Big 12 play, Iowa State attempted an eye-popping 38 shots from the perimeter.
“You just have to be there on the catch,” Walker said. “You just have to know who the guys are that shoot them and be there on the catch. Some teams just have guys who can make them even if you’re there on the catch. The best thing you can do is minimize them and not give them second shots when they miss, so they don’t have a chance to make a three and also have a chance to make a put back.”
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