Live by the three. Die by the three.
When the Syracuse women’s basketball faces Connecticut for the NCAA Championship at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, that’s the chance the Orange plans to take.
The Orange averages about 30 three-point attempts per game — and makes 9.0 in each outing, about one short of that goal.
“If you’re able to get a good 3-point shot, I think you can stabilize games and can get some advantages,” Hillsman said. “Our goal is to make 10 3s a game. That’s our goal. If it takes 40 to make 10, it’s 40. If it takes 50, it’s 50. But we’re trying to make 10 per game because we’re a zone team and we figure that if we can hold — we can normally hold teams under 10 makes per game, we want to match that and let that not be a factor in our games.”
In the NCAA Tournament, especially in the past two contests, the strategy has worked for Syracuse. The Orange hit double-digits in 3-pointers made with 12 against Washington in the NCAA semifinals — the second most in a game in Women’s Final Four history. In the regional finals against Tennessee last week,S Syracuse posted a 14-of-30 performance.
“(I tell) our players, anytime you have an open look, anytime you have a shot that's in your skill set, you've got to take it,” Hillsman said. “Because this time of year you’re playing against very good defensive teams, very good basketball teams. Normally in a possession you get one good look. If it's early in the possession, you’ve got to take the shot because you're playing against very good defensive teams."
A big reason for the Orange’s 3-point success is Brianna Butler.
Against Washington, the senior guard from King of Prussia, Pa., knocked down four from long range and set a new NCAA Division I single-season record with 128 3-point field goals made.
The nation’s active leader in career 3-point field goals made, Butler averages 3.44 3-pointers per contest this season. She currently ranks fourth in the country in 3-point field goals made per contest and is 12th on the NCAA all-time list.
“She's just so steady,” Hillsman said. “She's a kid that has a lot of responsibility for us to shoot the ball. And it’s just amazing to see her break that record because she deserves it. She’s a kid who is a very much team-oriented kid and she wants to pass the ball. She wants to make the right plays.”
But she isn’t doing it for the records.
"When I am knocking down shots, it opens up the lane for Alexis Peterson to drive, Brittney Sykes, Cornelia Fondren, gives paint touches to Briana Day, so it spreads out the defense more if I am making shots,” Butler said.
Connecticut knows it will have to limit Syracuse’s 3-point production to get the win Tuesday night.
“I think defensively guarding the 3 becomes the most important thing you have to do and the hardest thing you have to do,” said Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma. “And right now those guys are on a roll. And they're shooting it with a lot of confidence. We'll have to figure out a way to minimize that. I don't know that you can completely eliminate it, but I think we're going to have to figure out a way to minimize it tomorrow night.”
The Huskies will try to keep the ball out of the hands of Syracuse’s three-point shooters and not let them get many open looks.
“We have to get out and contest every single shot and make sure there is a hand there every single time,” said UConn sophomore guard Kia Nurse. “For us guards, we have to make sure to defend outside the three-point line.”