NEW ORLEANS — Those who learn from history will go on to write it.
Ignoring the lessons of the past — especially those taught recently — can prove disastrous. During Saturday’s semifinal games, it was readily apparent that Kansas and Kentucky had been diligent in their studies. Both teams paid close attention to last year’s shooting debacle in the Final Four.
In the previous final four Butler, Connecticut, VCU and Kentucky cumulatively hoisted 128 3-pointers into Reliant Stadium’s 90,000,000 cubic feet of space. Only 36 connected, and each team shot below its season average from beyond the arc.
Though the target was the standard 10 feet above the hardwood, the backdrop behind the basket was jarringly different. The rim floated in that massive expanse, hundreds of feet of open air separating it from the nearest solid surface, which toyed with each shooter’s depth perception. This year is no different.
Kentucky and Kansas both shot far fewer threes on Saturday than they did in the regular season. Kansas was 3-11 from beyond the arc after attempting 16.6 3-pointers-per-game this year. Kentucky only took seven attempts from deep, making two, after trying 14.6-per-game and 27 in last year’s national semifinal loss to Connecticut.
On Saturday, both teams largely avoided the temptation of trying to earn three points with a simple flick of the wrist and will be playing for a national championship on Monday.
Kentucky sophomore guard Doron Lamb passed on several open looks from the corner, opting instead to drive to the basket. Lamb attempted four 3-pointers-per-game this season (46 percent) but only took two against Louisville on Saturday.
“We just didn’t feel like shooting it really [in the dome],” Lamb said. “We just wanted to get to the rack. We kept getting easy buckets at the rim.”
Ohio State, however, ignored what happened in Houston last season. Of the four teams in this year’s Final Four, the Buckeyes were the only one to shoot more threes on Saturday than they’d averaged throughout the year. They launched 22 from deep against Kansas after attempting 15.2-per-game during the season.
“I take the approach they have to adapt [to shooting],” Ohio State head coach Thad Matta said on Friday. “I’m not concerned about it.”
Perhaps he should’ve been. Only eight of those attempts fell through and his team is going home.
After knocking a few threes down during Ohio State’s scrimmage on Friday, sophomore forward Deshaun Thomas swelled with confidence. His smooth left-handed stroke had helped carry the Buckeyes through the early rounds of the tournament, as he shot better than 40 percent from distance through the first four games. But all of those were played in arenas built for basketball with backdrops far closer to the rim than in the Superdome. Still, Thomas was undaunted on Friday.
“It felt pretty good; I shot it really well,” Thomas said with a wry, self-assured smile. “I think I’m going to shoot a couple of threes tomorrow.”
He did just that, launching seven, which tied a season high.
Unfourtunately he was only able to make one.
“[We wanted to give] Deshaun the opportunity to stretch the defense,” Matta said. “That was probably the biggest advantage I think that they had on us. You know, our inability to put the ball in the basket there was something that enabled them to gather momentum and get themselves going.”
Louisville’s senior guard Kyle Kuric struggled too. He went 3-8 from the field after shooting 42 percent during the season. He missed his one free throw attempt and hit nothing but air on a crucial second-half 3-pointer from the corner. Louisville is also going home early.Though he’s grown used to playing in Big East rival Syracuse’s Carrier Dome, Kuric said the Superdome is jarringly different.
“You’re in that one little corner of the Carrier Dome where one side looks pretty good,” Kuric said. “Here the court is in the center and you’re all surrounded, so it’s a lot different.”
Kansas senior guard Tyshawn Taylor is zero for the tournament from beyond the arc. Given his recent struggles, and the odd shooting environment in New Orleans, he only attempted three 3-pointers against Ohio State, despite the fact that Kansas trailed for the bulk of the game.
“I think that I personally have to understand that if my shots are not falling, I can do other things,” Taylor said. “We can stop the other team from scoring, rebounding and be tough. If we can continue to do that — whether the threes are falling or not — we can be an effective team.”
Indeed, Kansas was effective, using defense and quality looks inside to claw back into the game and steal a win. Rather than opting to live or die by the three, the Jayhawks simply ignored it, just as the Wildcats did.
Now one of them will have a chance to write their name in the history books, next to champion.