Friday, April 1, 2011, 4:29 p.m.
By Ryan OHalloran
HOUSTON Earlier this week, before his team traveled here for the Final Four, VCU coach Shaka Smart was asked about the Rams lights-out 3-point shooting during their improbable run through the NCAA tournament.
While providing an answer, Smart rapped his knuckles on the table in front of him. He was taking no chances.
If you look at our percentage, its definitely better than in the regular season, and we havent had a bad shooting night in the NCAA tournament yet, he said.
Emphasis on yet.
Smarts literal knock on wood was because he knows if the Rams cant hit from downtown Saturday night against Butler, their championship dreams will be dashed.
But if VCU adapts to the Reliant Stadium floor (middle of the football field) and background, Butler is in trouble.
If were not as good defending 3-pointers tomorrow, well probably get beaten very quickly, very early, Bulldogs coach Brad Stevens said Friday.
The Rams transformation beyond the arc is stunning.
In the regular season, the Rams shot 35.9 percent from long distance to rank 94th out of 336 Division I teams. Not once in 34 games did they make more than 10 3-pointers.
Contrast that with the past five games: VCU has hit 43.8 percent from beyond the arc (53 of 121) and in wins over Georgetown, Florida State and Kansas, the Rams connected for a dozen triples in each game.
Were just shooting the shots we take in practice and doing it with confidence, guard Ed Nixon said. Like we say on our team, its a swag thing. You need confidence. If you dont have it, you cant do anything.
The Rams clearly believe they can do anything at this point, having beaten teams from the Pac-10, Big East, Big Ten, ACC and Big 12 to join George Mason and Butler as mid-majors to reach the Final Four.
But swag has only something to do with it.
Smart doesnt believe in putting the stop sign on shooting 3-pointers.
A lot of coaches like to put restrictions on when guys can shoot, who can shoot, where they can shoot, he said. I try not to do that very much.
Five players have at least 11 3-point attempts in the NCAAs, and overall, six players have at least 89 attempts.
The Rams run crisp sets away from the ball to create open opportunities.
Anytime you have a good shooting team, No. 1, you as a coach have to put them in position to get open shots, Smart said. You have to execute your plays, you have to follow the play offensively in order to get those shots against good defensive teams.
And VCU is defending the 3-point shot better in the tournament (opponents are shooting only 39 percent) and rebounding well to create transition 3-point chances.
Add it all up and the Pop-A-Shot factor has carried the Rams to the cusp of playing for the national championship.
Its one of the keys, Butler senior Matt Howard said. When a team has shot the ball so well, you have to be aware of it. Its not going to the final tell-all, but it will be important that we dont give them easy looks but we still have to rebound and make sure were not running out at guys all the time and theyre getting easy lay-ups or dishing for easy points.
To that end, the Bulldogs spent early-week preparation on defensive rotations when VCU runs its array of screens to get its shooters open.
The game has evolved so much in regard to ball screens, Stevens said. But its where the other three guys are located that give you fits, because you can only help so much. You need to be really good rotating and picking and choosing who is more dangerous. Thats a hard thing to do at game speed.
Even if Butler finds an early answer or VCU starts cold, Smarts philosophy will remain unchanged: Keep chucking it. The Rams average nearly 23 3-point shots per game.
You have to make sure theyre shooting the ball with confidence, Smart said, and they know you, as a coach, believe in them and youre OK with them shooting.
Contact O'Halloran at firstname.lastname@example.org.