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Huskies have been on target

By Gavin Keefe

Publication: The Day

Published January 25. 2014 4:00AM
Improved shooting from behind the arc has been key

A major investigation isn't required to determine why UConn is converting 3-pointers at a record setting pace.

The overwhelming evidence points to one driving force behind the Huskies' significant improvement in shooting from the perimeter.

Hard work.

"Guys just being in the gym, working hard and doing the things under the water line that people don't see," coach Kevin Ollie said Friday. "They're just coming in here and challenging each other and getting up extra shots. We do a lot of shooting in practice and I think it's paying off."

UConn (15-4, 3-3) ranks fifth in the country in 3-point field goal percentage (41.7 percent) heading into tonight's American Athletic Conference game against Rutgers (8-11, 2-4) at 7 (ESPNU) at the Rutgers Athletic Center in Piscataway, N.J.

The Huskies are threatening to beat the single-season school record of 40.8 set by the 1995-96 led by Ray Allen and Doron Sheffer.

Their shooting percentage has risen dramatically from last year (34.0 percent) when they basically had the same perimeter players with the exception of Lasan Kromah.

Juniors DeAndre Daniels and Ryan Boatright and seniors Shabazz Napier and Niels Giffey have all improved on their marksmanship from bonus land. Daniels went from shooting 30.9 percent last season to 48.4 percent and Giffey has jumped from 29.4 to 54.3 percent.

"It's something that I worked on every day during the summer," Daniels said. "I just tried to take at least 2,000 shots a day. That was my main focus. I feel if I'm open I know I'm going to make it, because it's something that I've been doing for a lot time and I work hard on it."

UConn has three of the top four 3-point percentage shooters - Giffey (first), Daniels (2nd) and Napier (fourth, 45.7) - in all games among AAC teams.

It starts with an efficient offense that generates high percentage shots. When Napier and Boatright drive the lane, defenses usually react by closing down the middle, leaving shooters free on the perimeter for kickout passes.

The Huskies have time and space to line up their attempts. They're making 7.7 3-pointers per game.

"In our pick and roll situations, we have a lot of guys always popping (out)," Daniels said. "Then when we have Bazz coming off a screen or Boatright, (opposing teams) want to stop them from getting in the paint and that leaves players like me and Niels open for the pop and we're able to knock down our threes.

"I feel like that's difficult for teams to guard."

Of course, UConn has to do more than sink 3-pointers to win tonight and go over .500 in the conference for the first time this season.

They quickly learned that life on the road in the AAC can be an unforgiving place, going 1-2 so far. Playing with renewed spirit and energy in their last road trip, they beat Memphis, 83-73, on Jan. 16.

In his first season as head coach of his alma mater, Rutgers coach Eddie Jordan is attempting to rebuild a perennial loser after a 19-year stint in the NBA where he coached Ollie on the New Jersey Nets. Junior guard Myles Mack (team-high 16.5 points) is the team's engine and one of the four returning players while Pittsburgh transfer J.J. Moore (11.5 pts) joined the program.

The Scarlet Knights are a dangerous team at home, posting all eight wins there this season.

"They've got players," Ollie said. "We've got to make sure we know our scouting report and stay according to plan and force them to take bad shots and force them to not get a lot of points in transition. I think those are our keys."

UConn will be bolstered by the return of Boatright, who missed Tuesday's win over Temple to attend funeral services for a cousin back home in Aurora, Ill.

g.keefe@theday.com

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