It’s not a new question. Fans often ask why Arizona’s Sam Thomas doesn’t take more shots considering that she’s consistently one of the better outside shooters for the Wildcats. Her high school coach sometimes wonders that, as well.
Karen Wietz coached Thomas for part of her high school career at Las Vegas powerhouse Centennial High. While Weitz admires the defense Thomas plays—calling defense the “bread and butter” of her own program—she still watches her former player and thinks she should shoot more at times. Back in high school, they worked to make Thomas more comfortable shooting.
“I would put the ball in her hands and I would put her on the block,” Weitz said. “I would stretch her out, and I would make her shoot. So she got to the point where it was like, ‘Yeah, Sam, you’re gonna win the game for us because the ball is gonna be in your hands.’ So making her uncomfortable a little bit. But I think in high school, we can say and do a few more things, and maybe they can’t in college.”
Thomas remembers some of the drills that Weitz ran to make her into a shooter and how important they were to her development into the college player she is now.
“When I came into that school, I wasn’t really a shooter,” Thomas said. “That school kind of made me into a shooter. So back then everyone was kind of shorter than me, so I was playing the post player. So she just wanted me to shoot a lot of trail 3s. So we’d go like 5-on-0 with our offense and every time she’d just say, ‘Hit Sam as a trail! Hit Sam as a trail!’ Every time I had to shoot it. So, she just kept making me do repetition after repetition, so in the game, it was natural.”
Thomas said that she doesn’t necessarily look back on games and wish she had shot the ball at any given moment, but she does think she sometimes isn’t getting everything out of her offensive skillset.
“I don’t think I ever think that I should have shot there,” Thomas said. “But I do sometimes think I could have been more aggressive.”
Arizona head coach Adia Barnes has taken both positions over the course of Thomas’ college career, which is now in its fifth year. While Barnes has talked about the need for Thomas to be more aggressive at times, she has also praised her restraint when it comes to taking shots. Barnes has generally been pleased that Thomas doesn’t take bad shots.
Taking good shots may, in fact, be why Thomas has been one of Arizona’s better 3-point shooters for most of her career. It may also explain why she doesn’t take as many as some fans might like. In the one season she took dramatically more 3-point shots, her accuracy dropped just as dramatically.
According to stats service Her Hoop Stats, Thomas has been in the 80th percentile or above for 3-point accuracy across Division I women’s basketball for four of her five years including the current season. In the three of those seasons that have been completed, she shot an average of 105 3-pointers per season. On a per-game basis, she has averaged roughly 3.55 3PA per game.
Her sophomore season was an outlier. In 2018-19, Thomas upped her 3-point attempts to 159 over the course of the entire season. The Wildcats played more games that year because they won the WNIT, but her per-game attempts were significantly higher, as well. Thomas had 4.3 3PA per game in the WNIT season. Her highest attempt numbers outside that year were 3.74 per game last season.
That 2018-19 season is an outlier for another reason. Thomas saw her accuracy on outside shots plummet, as well as her ranking among DI players. That year, she hit just 32.7 percent of her 3-point shots, landing in the 60th percentile. In her other three completed seasons, she has been in the 80th, 86th, and 87th percentile in 3-point field goal percentage. This year, she’s in the 84th percentile.
On a positive note, Thomas has made improvements on a per-40-minute basis this year. In her second senior season, Thomas is averaging five 3PA per 40 minutes, the same as she did her sophomore season. Her accuracy has not taken the drop it saw in 2018-19, though. This year, she is hitting 38.8 percent of those shots. That’s the highest of her career just edging out the 38.6 percent 3-point field goal percentage she had last year.
Thomas may be known as one of the better defenders in the country, but her 3-point shooting is also critical to spreading the floor for Arizona and keeping the opposing defense honest. Considering the course of her career, though, it’s difficult to argue that she’s made bad offensive choices.