UK’s Achilles-heel: 3-point shooting

By Josh Ellis

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For the majority of the young season, newly appointed No. 1 UK has played good basketball.

But despite the No. 1 ranking and a 5-0 record, there has been a constant negative throughout – three-point shooting.

In every UK win this year, the Cats have struggled to shoot the three.

The Cats opened the season against an Albany team that brought fight, but couldn’t withstand the size and athleticism of John Calipari’s reloaded roster (minus Isaiah Briscoe who was out due to injury) and lost to the Cats 78-65 in Rupp Arena.

But UK shot 6-of-17 (35.3 percent) from behind the arc.

The next day UK hosted NJIT and controlled the rebounding battle the entire game to cruise to a 30-point victory. The Cats had one of its best defensive performances against the Highlanders, forcing 14 turnovers and swatting nine shots. Skal Labissiere also poured in 26 points.

But UK shot 5-of-21 (23.8 percent) from behind the arc.

In Chicago at the Champions Classic, UK rolled past No. 5 Duke with an impressive performance from its back court. The Tyler Ulis, Isaiah Briscoe and Jamal Murray trio produced 46 points, 12 assists and eight steals. UK lead the Blue Devils for 33 of the 40 minutes.

But UK shot 3-of-10 (30 percent) from behind the arc.

Returning to Lexington, UK had a sluggish win over Wright State 78-63. The Cats committed 12 turnovers and had just nine assists, but a career performance from Ulis boosted UK to its fourth consecutive win.

But UK shot 2-of-10 (20 percent) from behind the arc.

And on Tuesday, the Cats dominated the paint outscoring Boston 58-16. The Terriers kept it close up until the second half, when a flurry from senior Alex Poythress sparked UK to a 20-point win. Poythress had his second consecutive double-double, producing 14 points and 10 rebounds.

But UK shot 3-of-15 (20 percent) from behind the arc.

The Cats haven’t faced as much zone as many would’ve thought, but the team will no doubt see more of it in the future. After all, they’re shooting just 19-of-73 (26 percent) from three-point range this season, why wouldn’t you make UK beat you by shooting over the top?

Calipari agrees his team has got to improve its perimeter shooting if they want to win games down the stretch.

“You got to make some threes, you can’t win good games being 3-15 from the three-point line,” Calipari said. “And we have been that now since the beginning of the year.”

So what’s the explanation for UK’s poor three-point shooting?

Murray, who is shooting just 8-of-26 (30.7 percent) from three-point range this year, hinted it may be more of a mental hurdle than a physical hurdle.

“We just missed shots. We definitely missed more than we normally do and that’s just us mentally trying to hit the shots,” Murray said.

Regardless of the horrific three-point shooting, UK is still 5-0, and still the No. 1 team in the country. The positive takeaway for UK fans is that even though the Cats have grabbled to maintain a steady shot from behind the arc, they are still winning basketball games.

This may be the case now, but down the road when UK has to face teams like UCLA, Louisville, Vanderbilt and Kansas among others, the Cats may not be so fortunate.

And Calipari knows that, and has been adjusting accordingly. If his team isn’t doing one thing particularly well, they better do the other things extremely well if they want to win – which they have been.

“Like, some of (the three-point shots) were open, but our whole thing was, let’s go inside, let’s throw lobs, let’s offensive rebound, let’s drive the lane if they play zone,” Calipari said. “And I think they did a good job.”