Dialing Long Distance

Defending the three-pointer has developed into a major problem this season for Connecticut. And it was a struggle once again Wednesday night against the Cincinnati Bearcats.

Going into the game, the Bearcats were third in the Big East in three point field goal percentage (.368) and were making an impressive 8.0 three pointers per game, which ranked them first in the Big East and tied for 39th in the nation.

Four teams were tied with the Bearcats in the NCAA standings for Jan. 15: St.Francis (NY), College of Charleston, Brown and Tennessee.

That's right. Tennessee (UConn's opponent Saturday) makes 8.0 three-pointers a game – just like Cincinnati.

Only one other UConn opponent this season has averaged more per game. Coppin State is third in the nation with 9.6 per game. The Huskies beat Coppin State 87-70, limiting the Eagles to four three-pointers. But six UConn opponents this season have shot 41 percent or better from beyond the arc. Three (UCF, Seton Hall and Cincinnati) went on to beat UConn. Seton Hall hit 50 percent against the Huskies.

Tennessee's inclination toward the three is not what the Huskies want to hear as they take the road for their final non-conference game of the season. But maybe it is time the Huskies wake up and start getting a hand in the face of opposing shooters.

"After Saturday there are 11 games left," UConn coach Jim Calhoun said after the Cincinnati game. "And you can't make them up. You only get so many games to play and the season goes by quickly."

The Huskies rank last in three-point field goal percentage defense (34.9) in the Big East and allow 7.9 made threes per game.

Sean Kilpatrick's game-winning three with 2.5 seconds left will be remembered most, but the Bearcats were 11 of 26 from long distance, good for 42.3%. Seven of those 11 came in the first half on when Cincinnati shot 50 percent. UConn's defense definitely improved in the second half, but Cincinnati still found a way to get that critical last shot.

"I felt we were definitely going to get an open shot or we were going to drive it to the basket," Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said. "If [Kilpatrick] would have hesitated, I would have called a timeout. But as he was pushing it up, I saw his mindset; he was going to be aggressive."

After a big three-pointer by UConn's Shabazz Napier tied the game at 67, it looked liked the Huskies had forced overtime. But the ball was inbounded to Kilpatrick, and with nine seconds to go he drove, got over midcourt, pulled up and buried a three that won the game 70-67 – even with Napier and Jeremy Lamb in his face.

"We gave up 11 three point shots," Calhoun said. "The one at the end happens. That happens in basketball. I'm not worried about that. I'm much more concerned with the two that we gave up when it had gone to a two or three point lead, and then we started gambling again, the same thing that got us in trouble before."

Last year UConn finished fifth in the Big East in defending the three (31.6) in conference games. The dropoff this season is noticeable.

"We gave a lot of looks in the first half [against Cincinnati]," Napier said. "And once you give a team like that some shots, they make a lot of shots and their confidence gets boosted. It started getting a little nerve-racking."

Niels Giffey, who played a career high 34 minutes in the game, said much the same when asked about the Bearcats ability to score from long range.

"Especially in the first half, we didn't put enough pressure on them and let them take a lot of threes," he said. "Obviously, they made a lot of threes. I think that was the key."

"Gambling" is the term that Calhoun has used a lot lately. The team's lackluster effort defending the three has been the result of gambling on screens and passes. Taking too many chances going for a steal or fighting through screens can result in a lot of good looks for opponents.

"When you get down 10, there's a reason for it," Calhoun said after the loss to Cincinnati. "It's because we gambled."

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