The Gonzaga men’s basketball team was shooting 32.9% on 3-pointers when the players woke up Dec. 18 in their Phoenix hotel rooms.
The Zags’ offense was humming along just fine at the time, a few hours before facing No. 25 Texas Tech at Footprint Center. Gonzaga was No. 2 in KenPom’s efficiency ratings and putting up 85.6 points per game on 64.7% accuracy inside the arc.
Fast forward, beginning with Gonzaga totaling a season-high 13 3-pointers on nearly 42% shooting in a 69-55 win over the Red Raiders, and the Zags have been dialed in from long distance.
In that seven-game span, the Zags (15-2, 4-0 West Coast Conference) have produced five of their top six 3-point percentages of the season. They had a string of three straight games with at least 110 points and two more in the 90s.
Gonzaga’s 3-point percentage has climbed from 32.9 after 10 games to 36.3% after 17. That ranks third in the WCC and 63rd nationally. That still ranks among the lower 3-point percentages – 35.3% in 2010 was the low-water mark – since Gonzaga’s run to the 1999 Elite Eight, but consider that 32.9% would rank 219th in current NCAA stats.
The Zags have connected on 42.2% of 3-pointers in four WCC games, even after finishing 5 of 18 in last Thursday’s win over San Francisco. It adds another layer of stress for opposing defense already focused on Gonzaga’s efficiency inside the arc.
“Our numbers have been spectacular all year offensively, but when we’re making 3s it just takes it to another level and I think that manifested itself in those first three league games,” assistant coach Brian Michaelson said. “The value of the 3, but also the way we were making them with so many guys, it limits where teams can help from.
“We’re on year two of historic 2-point shooting, especially with Drew (Timme), Chet (Holmgren) and Anton (Watson) really all season with the pressure they’ve put on the rim and our guards are very good finishers. So now the defense has some real choices to make with our ability to shoot 2s.”
The Zags scored 69 points on Texas Tech, one of the nation’s best defenses that yields 60.8 per game after Monday’s 94-91 double-overtime loss to Kansas. Gonzaga had 61 points at half and finished with 110 against a BYU defense that entered the game at 61.9. Gonzaga, even with a subpar 3-point night, scored 78 vs. USF, which was allowing 65.5.
Nearly everyone in the primary eight-man rotation has pitched in from long range in the past seven games, led by Rasir Bolton (12 of 25, 48%), Holmgren (10 of 21, 47.6%), Andrew Nembhard (14 of 30, 46.7%) and Nolan Hickman (12 of 26, 46.2%). Watson is 3 of 6 (50%) and Timme is 3 of 8 (37.5%).
“I’ve said all along we have a lot of really good shooters,” Michaelson said. “I knew Chet would get there. With Anton, you see how well it’s coming off his hand. All those guards, Julian (Strawther), Andrew and Rasir has been out of this world. Obviously, Nolan can really shoot.”
Strawther, who was at 41.5% after 10 games, has slipped to 36.5%, but he’s made at least one 3-pointer in 15 of 17 games. Bolton is the only other Zag with at least one 3-pointer in 15 games. Bolton and Strawther share the team lead with 31 made 3s. Bolton is first in season-long accuracy (43.7).
“We work on it every day, all day,” Bolton said after a recent game. “So it feels good when it goes in for sure.”
Sophomore guard Dominick Harris, one of the Zags’ top shooters, is rehabilitating from foot surgery in October. He’s doing some individual drills but hasn’t been cleared to practice with the team.
The Zags don’t rely on 3-pointers as much as most teams because of their interior firepower. Their 3-point accuracy in 15 wins is 36.6% and 34.1% in two losses. They shot 39.1% and hit nine 3s in a loss to Alabama, which drained 13 3s.
“Obviously, when Chet is spacing the floor – he’s always been a good shooter but we’ve seen improvement in the last six weeks – at 7-1 it’s unheard of and it really stretches the defense,” Michaelson said. “I know in the losses Drew hasn’t shot as well from 2, but that’s part of being a star player.
“When you look back on those games, Duke got off to the hot start and we had major turnovers (17). That’s the first thing I’d point to in that game. Alabama, I don’t think our energy was great and we had free-throw issues (13 of 25).”
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