COMMENTARY — There’s no doubt the 3-point shot is a game-changer in the sport of basketball.
The 3, or the trey, is 30-years-old now. Introduced in college basketball in 1986 (in the NBA it was 1979, and high school hoops in 1987) the deep ball has now become an integral part of the way the game is played. Young players, when they get strong enough to be able to shoot the 3, tend to become enamored with it. All-star games, like our recent March Mayhem contest here in southern Utah, often become a loosely officiated 3-point shooting contest, with some dunks mixed in.
Coaches around the country often develop a love/hate relationship with the long bomb. I’ve been to practices where the coaches have outlawed the 3-pointer, and others where it was the focal point of the entire offense drill set.
The 3-point shot can be the jump-off-your-couch momentum-shifter that helps a team stick a fork in the opponent. Or it can be the dagger that sends us fans slumping back in our love seat in frustration and disappointment.
Tonight, when BYU faces off against Ole Miss in Dayton, Ohio, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, the 3-pointer will be center stage, the lead role in a gripping drama that the nation will be watching. More than 30 percent of BYU’s made shots this season have been beyond the arc. For Mississippi, that number is up over 26 percent.
For the Cougars, who have made 285 of the zone busters, a quartet of guys have made opponents pay all year long. Chase Fischer leads the pack with 97 3-pointers on the season. As fans saw several different times this season, the junior Wake Forest transfer can single-handedly alter the course of a basketball game. Early in the year, Fischer set a BYU record with 10 treys in a single game against Chaminade. The Silverswords never had a chance as the Cougars made 17 as a team that night and scored 121 points.
Just last week, Fischer was hot again, burying 6 of 7 in the first half in the West Coast Conference semifinals against Portland. Once again, the hot shooting ended the contest early as BYU led 42-24 at the half and won easily 84-70.
But it would be a mistake for the Rebels to think that stopping Fischer means stopping the Cougars. Three other guys, Tyler Haws, Skyler Halford and Andon Winder, can all go deep without a second thought. Haws hits at a 36 percent clip and has 49 triples on the year. Winder, though he is nursing knee problems, hits 38 percent from deep and has buried 44 deep balls.
And then there is former Salt Lake Community College star Skyler Halford. I have to admit, when Halford first suited up for BYU, he seemed to just be a poor-man’s Jimmer Fredette. He didn’t have the range or the scoring acumen of Fredette, and neither of the two could play much defense.
But about half way through this season, Halford made me eat my words. He started hitting tough lefty layups in traffic. He started dishing out tough assists and even picked up some quick-handed steals. But most importantly, he started burying open 3-pointers.
A lot of players never do make the transition from junior college basketball to Division I. The game is faster, the defenders are better and the crowds are louder. I covered a player at Utah State about 20 years ago (I’ll leave his name out) who was one of the all-time 3-point shooters in juco history out of Eastern Utah. He had a bit of a funky delivery and release, but reports were that he was a dead-eye. He was going to be the perfect addition to a team that had a couple of 7-footers to rule the paint.
But his shot never showed up for the Aggies. He made a few, but his percentages were not good. The speed of the game, and especially the quickness of defenders to get out and contest his shot, was too much for the shooter. He played for two seasons, but his minutes dwindled to almost none by the end. After all, who needs a 3-point shooter who can’t hit a 3-point shot consistently?
But Halford, who struggled a bit his junior year (31 percent), has become scary good from deep. The guy they call “The Accountant” and who looks like he’s in his mid-30s, found his shot in 2015. He is a phenomenal 49-102 from beyond the arc this season. He doesn’t shoot it a bunch (he’s never shot more than six treys in a game), but when he does, there’s about a 50-percent chance it’s going in.
For Ole Miss, stopping all those shooters is impossible. In fact, as is often the case, the Rebels may just have to hope Fischer, Halford and company are off from outside the arc. In the WCC Finals, Fischer and Haws were a combined 0 for 7 from deep, although Halford made 3 of 5 to help BYU stay close against Gonzaga.
The Rebels will counter with two sharpshooters of their own. Speedy point guard Stefan Moody, who averages 16.3 points a game, has made 71 3s on the year at a 35-percent clip. Like BYU and Fischer, Ole Miss has a 3-point specialist in Ladarius White. He’s scored 357 points this season and 165 of those have come on 3-pointers. One other guy, Jarvis Summers, is a streaky trey shooter. He once made 4 of 7 3-pointers in a game, but also had a 1 for 9 game and quite a few ohfers.
There will certainly be other factors that help decide tonight’s game — rebounding and turnovers will be huge. But it would be a safe bet to say that 3-point shooting will be the biggest factor of all. If the Cougars are hot, they can beat anybody.
Of course, the same can be said about Ole Miss. Back in early January, Moody hit five treys as the Rebels gave undefeated Kentucky its biggest scare of the season, a three-point overtime game. Not coincidentally, Mississippi missed a 3-pointer at the end of regulation that would have knocked off the powerful Wildcats, and another at the end of overtime that would have forced another extra period.
As we’ve learned, for 30 years now, sometimes the 3 giveth and sometimes the 3 taketh away.
Blue Blood is a weekly column following BYU basketball and is written by STGNews sports editor Andy Griffin. The opinions expressed are his and not necessarily those of St. George News.
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