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Zags Succeed By Passing Good Shot For A Better One

To address issues of shooting a basketball, we consulted Ryan Floyd a shooter, by both reputation and mensuration, from way back.

“Well,” the Gonzaga University sophomore said, betraying a smile, “I used to be.”

Give the kid this: he is a creature of context.

And he is quite aware that in his current circumstance - in the company he now keeps - there is a glut of ranking authorities on the subject.

At Gonzaga, it seems, everybody can shoot.

Stranger still, everybody may.

This came to our attention again Saturday night, when the Bulldogs aerated Saint Mary’s 102-73 with the kind of shelling that made you think Bonnie and Clyde actually had a sporting chance by comparison.

Among other things, the Zags made a season-high 15 3-point shots - for the second time this season scoring more from beyond the arc than from within.

And it didn’t take much research Tuesday to confirm that the best long-distance shooting team in the land is Gonzaga - and that the 45.2 percent the Bulldogs are hitting from 3-point range is better than they shot from all over the floor 20 years ago.

What’s a bad shot at Gonzaga?

“One that doesn’t go in,” said coach Dan Monson.

Hold up. This is hardly Eye-It-and-Fly-It U., but neither is it your older brother’s Gonzaga, where field goal attempts were once husbanded like silver dollars.

But now, as then, the premium is on marksmanship.

“If you look at most of our players,” said Monson, “their strength is how they shoot the ball, or at least their offensive ability.

“This program has always gone after guys like that. If you run flex, you have to have people who can play inside and out. Your big guys are spending half the time 15 feet away from the basket. You have to have guys who can shoot.”

But where do you find them?

The numbers and national magazines are telling us these days you can’t. No longer is the question why Johnny can’t read, but why Johnny can’t shoot.

Field goal percentages nationwide at the college level have declined steadily for a dozen years. Three-point shooting has dropped each year since the shot was introduced in 1986-87.

Statistics confirm the trend that players can only sense.

“Playing the bigger schools like Clemson the way we did at the beginning of the season,” said forward Mike Leasure, “you see kids who are so athletic. Maybe they tend to neglect shooting because they are so athletic, that they try to take the ball to the basket every time and get by without shooting jump shots.”

Perhaps more to the point, making a jump shot won’t get you on SportsCenter. Dunking on some poor chump’s head will.

Of course, the Zags don’t get on SportsCenter much these days - even with a 15-4 record and some token support in the polls. The kind of basketball that works for Gonzaga is hard to package in a highlight clip.

And for a time, Monson wasn’t sure if the Bulldogs were grasping the concept.

In GU’s two exhibition games and the semi-exhibition opener against Concordia, the Zags shot well under 50 percent - numbers that hardly boded well with the murderers row awaiting them in a subsequent tournament in Alaska.

“I think we took it for granted that they understood shot selection,” Monson said. “So we sat them down and watched film of the Concordia game and made the kids go through each shot. We passed it around the room: ‘Is this a good shot? Why or why not?’ Each kid talked about their teammate, what was a good shot or a bad shot for him and why he should or shouldn’t take it.

“What we wanted to get across was that they could be a good shooting team taking any shot they wanted - but that they could be a great shooting team by making the extra pass or getting something that was more on balance.”

And all the Zags did was shoot 56 percent against Tulsa, Mississippi State and Clemson - 65 percent from 3-point range.

As impressive as GU’s accuracy is its diversity. Eight different players are shooting better than 40 percent from 3. Four of them - Leasure, Bakari Hendrix, Axel Dench and freshman Casey Calvary are GU’s inside players; one, guard Matt Santangelo, is shooting 30 points higher from beyond the arc.

And against Saint Mary’s, eight different Zags made 3s.

“One concept they’ve started to grasp is that what’s a good shot for Matt is totally different than a good shot for Axel,” said Monson. “Guys have different strengths. Richie Frahm wide open on the break is one thing, but that becomes a tough shot for a kid who just came in the game and hasn’t touched the ball.

Some guys get a little more leeway.”

Sometimes the fine line gets blurred. Monson confessed to crossing it against Pepperdine, when the Zags built a 29-point halftime lead and then tried too hard to cozy up to the clock.

The fact is, however, that over the previous six years, GU’s shooting had mirrored the national trend - dropping from 51.2 percent in 1992 to 46.1 last year, and just 35.7 from 3. This team probably has a better mix of pure shooters, like Frahm, and evolving ones, like Leasure, an ex-prep center, who used to play mostly with his back to the basket.

Mostly, they have a concept.

“I wouldn’t say I’m a shooter - I’m trying to be a better one,” Leasure said. “But it helps to be on a team where everyone’s willing to make the extra pass, where you’ll get the ball when you’re open and where no one’s taking selfish shots.”

And where a bad shot is simply one that doesn’t go in.

, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = John Blanchette The Spokesman-Review