The University of Maine women’s basketball team’s 3-point shooting woes this past weekend in the America East Tournament was another good example of proving the old adage that teams that live by the 3 often die by the 3.
That’s what happened when top-seeded Maine was upset Sunday by No. 5 Hartford, a team that the Black Bears convincingly beat twice during the regular season.
In its quarterfinal tourney win over Binghamton, Maine was 5 for 20 (25 percent) from beyond the arc and in its semifinal loss to Hartford, the Black Bears connected on just 7 of 34 shots (20.6) for a combined 12 for 54 (22.2).
By settling for so many 3-pointers, they didn’t take the ball to the basket or pass it inside, and the result was just a 3-for-4 effort from the foul line.
It took the Bears11 attempts from 3-point land before hitting one against Hartford and they finished just 3 for 16 in the first half. The second half wasn’t much better as they went 4 for 18.
During the regular season, Maine hit 33 percent of its 3-pointers. Had that percentage continued for the Hartford game, Maine probably would have been playing at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor this Friday in the conference final.
There were signs of problems for the Bears entering the tourney. In their last five games before the tournament they were just 27 for 99 (27 percent) on 3-pointers.
This problem is not unique for Maine or any other team at any level that relies on the 3-point shot as a major part of its offense.
Relying for a third of a team’s offense from the 3-point shot is all right in the regular season as there are other games to play if the team has a bad night from beyond the arc.
However, relying on it so much in a tournament situation of one-and-done is risky.
This is a common problem and will become more evident as the Division I conference tourneys and the NCAA March Madness play out.
What causes a team to have a bad game shooting 3-pointers?
It can be the pressure of win or go home, the fatigue of playing back-to-back games, the law of averages, rushing the shots, playing on the road or lack of confidence if the early shots don’t fall.
What happens to many teams is that they don’t have a good backup plan that enables them to get better shots if the 3-pointers aren’t falling. High percentage shots need to come from a continuity offense designed for the system to get the shots, not the players.
Usually the biggest cause of bad shooting nights is that players lose their legs from fatigue and do not get enough leg depth into their shot. In Maine’s case, the players looked tired in both their tourney games and in their final regular-season game, a loss at New Hampshire.
This fatigue could very well been the result of a season of long travel distances. I watched many of their games online and noticed how their 3-point percentages dipped in the last seven games.
If the America East women’s tourney format was like the men’s format of rewarding the higher seeded teams homecourt advantage based on their regular season performance, Maine would have not played back-to-back games and would have played at the Cross Insurance Center. The outcome may have been different than Sunday’s loss and Saturday’s win of giving up 71 points to Binghamton, a team that won four games this season.
Not having to travel, sleeping in their own beds, playing in a familiar shooting surrounding and large fan support, may have been enough to give the Black Bears an adrenalin boost to overcome the fatigue of a long season and the target of being the number one seed.
After an outstanding regular season, let’s hope they can get rested and move on to a successful Women’s NIT Tournament.
Trivia Question: Has a player ever scored the first two points in each quarterfinal, semifinal and final games in an Eastern Maine Tournament?