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3-pointers aren’t falling, so Arizona is focused on playing inside-out basketball

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: DEC 06 Women’s - USC at Arizona Getty Images

The 27-point loss to No. 1 Stanford taught the Arizona women’s basketball team a valuable lesson: stop settling for so many jump shots.

The Cardinal sagged off, clogged the paint with their length, and happily let Arizona brutalize the McKale Center rims.

The Wildcats launched 25 3-pointers that night and only made six. After starting 3 for 3, they missed 19 of their next 22 triples on their way to a humbling 81-54 defeat.

“They were baiting us into shots and we were taking the shots they wanted us (to),” Arizona head coach Adia Barnes said. “We took very quick 3s. We took shots when they’re not guarding us. When Stanford isn’t guarding you, they’re not guarding you for a reason.”

And that reason is that Arizona is not a good, or even decent, 3-point shooting team right now. The Wildcats have only made 28% of their triples, which ranks eighth in the Pac-12 and 218th nationally. Reserve guard Helena Pueyo (38.7%) is the only rotation player shooting above the nation’s average—and she only took one 3 against Stanford.

So after that game, Barnes said she had tough, honest conversations with her players. She drilled them with constructive criticism that reminded them of what they do, and don’t do, well.

They seemed to get the message because two days later they responded by shooting 53% from the field in a 69-33 win over Cal, with 50 points in the paint. The Wildcats still struggled to hit 3s, going just 1 for 11 from behind the arc, but Barnes was satisfied with their shot selection.

“For us, it was getting back to things we do well and getting the shots we want,” she said. “I don’t like offense where the ball just stays on one side of the floor and someone dribbles 10 times. ... The ball needs to not stick. We say, ‘don’t stall the ball, reverse it and work on both sides.’ So you saw a lot more reversal today and that’s my expectation for our offense, and then we get shots we want. And I want it deeper in the shot clock. If we don’t score fast, I want to score deeper in the shot clock. And so I think for us doing that, if that means we took 11 3s and we took all open 3s, I’m fine with that.”

The more important numbers were that post players Cate Reese and Trinity Baptiste tallied 31 points on a combined 15-of-18 shooting against a tall Cal frontcourt. That was after they only totaled five points on seven shots against Stanford.

“They weren’t a factor because we didn’t enable them to be a factor, so that’s my fault,” Barnes said. “So I made the corrections and said ‘hey, we have to get them involved.’ Because last game I said we were running a play that’s for them, but then we were shooting the ball. Today it was like, ‘we are running this play, you cannot shoot the ball. The ball has to go here.’ And I think that our players responded and were receptive and did that. They were looking for the posts. Because we’re not a good team and we won’t win championships if we don’t play inside and out. We need balance.”

As the point guard, Aari McDonald is a key figure in ensuring Arizona has that balance. She had eight assists against Cal and only took two 3s, her lowest output of the season, after missing all six she attempted against Stanford.

“She did things today that I love for her to do,” Barnes said after the Cal game. “She recognized the mismatches. She asked me, ‘hey, can we call this?’ Yeah! I mean, I like when she’s thinking about that. She’s trying to isolate her teammates. She made a conscious effort to do that and I thought she played a perfect game.”

Barnes expects Arizona’s 3-point shooting to improve as the season goes on, noting that they will continue to work on it and that players like Sam Thomas are shooting well below their career averages right now.

She is more concerned about the quality of 3s Arizona is taking rather than the quantity, but hoisting 25 against Stanford was unacceptable. The final score was brutal proof of that.

“We’re not a team I want to take 25 3s,” Barnes said. “We are not Oregon and we do not shoot like Oregon, so we should not take 25 attempts like Oregon. ... We do other things well. We have great athletes that are great one-on-one, get-to-the-rim players. So I think that we need to take the shots we want.”