With his Gophers basketball teammates running the floor and the opposing defense outnumbered in transition Thursday vs. Central Michigan, Gabe Kalscheur stopped at the three-point arc to launch an uncontested jumper.
Why not take advantage of a wide-open look from long distance? The sophomore sharpshooter missed, but his head coach has no problem with that shot.
“That’s where you’re going to bring great value,” Gophers coach Richard Pitino said. “We have to attack better across the board, but it’s important for him to make threes for us.”
Kalscheur, a former DeLaSalle standout and the team’s best shooter last season, isn’t the only Gophers player with the green light to let it fly from deep this year.
It seems like only a matter of time before team records will fall from long distance. The Gophers had 14 threes in the 82-57 win Thursday vs. Central Michigan, just two shy of the school’s single-game mark of 16 set in 2001.
Entering Sunday against North Dakota (1-3), the Gophers (2-3) lead the Big Ten with 10.6 three-point baskets per game. They have made 93 three-pointers in five game (compared to 53 last season) and attempted 147 (93 last season). The Gophers were actually more accurate at this point last season (39.8% to 36.1) on three-pointers.
The men’s college three-point line moved back about a foot to the international distance, but Minnesota’s best shooters, Kalscheur and junior Payton Willis, said it isn’t much of a factor.
“I felt like we were shooting from back there anyway,” Willis said. “I don’t think that’s a problem at all.”
Former DeLaSalle standout Kalscheur was in a slump before the second half of the 73-69 loss at Utah last week. In the three halves since, Kalscheur is shooting 8-for-15 from beyond the arc.
“We’re going to have off nights,” said Kalscheur, who had 15 points on 5-for-11 three-point shooting vs. Central Michigan. “That’s how it rolls when you’re a shooter. You just have to keep being confident.”
Pitino has five players with at least four threes made through five games, compared to just two last season. Kalscheur leads with 15, and Willis has 14.
Willis, a 6-foot-5 transfer from Vanderbilt, experienced his own cold stretch during the Gophers’ three-game losing streak. He opened the season 9-for-20 from three in the first two games, but he went 1-for-11 combined in losses to Butler and Utah. That turned around Thursday with Willis scoring 18 points on 4-for-6 three-point shooting.
“Gabe and I being shooters, we always have to have confidence in it,” Willis said. “Sometimes we have to get a bucket to get us going or maybe get to the free throw line, an easy layup or something.”
The Gophers can get too caught up in shooting threes. Center Daniel Oturu, who leads the team with 17 points and 11.8 rebounds per game, had a season-low nine points on 4-for-7 shooting Thursday and watched his teammates shoot six straight jumpers, including five errant threes, early vs. Central Michigan before he got the ball inside.
Pitino wants offensive balance. The Gophers have 78 fewer free throw attempts than last year after five games, ranking 319th in the country in free throw rate (21.4).
“It’s the personnel,” Pitino said. “We’re not getting enough points from the foul line. We’ve still got to be able to shoot threes, but we still have to be able to put pressure on the defense.”