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Four Divide By Three
GRANT WAHL
April 02, 2007
No lead will be safe as, 20 years after the three-point line was introduced to college hoops, a final quartet of trigger-happy teams takes aim at the title in Atlanta
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April 02, 2007

Four Divide By Three

No lead will be safe as, 20 years after the three-point line was introduced to college hoops, a final quartet of trigger-happy teams takes aim at the title in Atlanta

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Then again, not all the Hoyas need to be convinced. Junior guard Jonathan Wallace, Georgetown's most lethal three-point threat (48.6%), says he feels comfortable shooting "from at least NBA range [23'9"] and maybe a step behind it"--a boast that he backed up with supersized cojones on Sunday by nailing a game-tying trey with 31 seconds left in regulation during the Hoyas' thrilling 96--84 OT win against North Carolina.

In the other national semifinal between UCLA and Florida, the battle around the three-point line will be fascinating from a defensive perspective. Only one team in the NCAA tournament (Duke) allowed opponents to take a lower percentage of their field goal attempts from three-point range this season than the Bruins (27.0%), whom coach Ben Howland has rebuilt in four short years on the basis of gear-grinding defense. How does Howland's flytrap D take away the three? For one thing, the UCLA players--all of them, really, but Afflalo and fellow guard Darren Collison in particular--are dogged on-the-ball defenders, equally adept at switching out on shooters behind perimeter screens and preventing dribble penetration that leads to kick-out threes.

But if the ball does enter the lane, the Bruins are often asked to do something that's counterintuitive. "You've got to have your players stay home and not play help defense," says Howland. "That's going against their instinct, but if you really want to stop the three, you can't get drawn into helping out. So many teams get an open look at a three late in the game, and you say to yourself, 'Why did they leave that kid?' Well, it's because his defender went and helped out instead of staying with his man."

On offense UCLA wants to shoot enough three-pointers to keep defenses from sagging, but it's revealing that the Bruins' most prolific three-point gunner--Afflalo, who has taken nearly twice as many treys this season as any of his teammates--doesn't consider himself one. "I'm a scorer who can shoot the three, but I'd rather get into the paint," says Afflalo, who's merely respectable from three-point range, at 37.7%.

The Bruins do have other deep threats in guards Collison and Michael Roll and forward Josh Shipp, but they'll have their work cut for them against Florida, which owns that stingy three-point defense for a reason, as UCLA discovered in last year's 73--57 title game loss (when it shot just 3 for 17 from long range). "We've really put a focus on taking away threes, and that's a credit to our team," says assistant coach Donnie Jones, noting that the Gators' top big men, 6'11" Joakim Noah and 6'10" Al Horford, are agile enough to challenge guards on the perimeter. "You also have to understand who the shooters are and force them to drive. We're not giving you threes, and if we do, you're going to take them two or three steps out of your range."

When the Gators have the ball, they try to maximize their frontcourt supremacy by establishing their inside game first. Only then do they look for the three-pointer, most often from point guard Taurean Green (a 40.4% three-point shooter) and Humphrey (45.5%). So deadly was the marksman known as Humpty in Sunday's 85--77 Midwest Regional final victory over Oregon that he caused an 11-minute delay when one of his seven treys literally broke the net. "He's on fire," cracked teammate Corey Brewer amid the postgame revelry. "Nets are coming off! Go get ladders!"

Go get ladders. It's a request that these transcendent Gators have grown accustomed to making over the past two seasons as they've celebrated two regional final wins, two SEC tournament crowns, a regular-season league championship and, of course, a national title. As they stand at the gates of the college basketball pantheon, it says here that Billy D's boys have the teamwork, the experience and, not least, the three-point superiority to cut down the nets again.

With a shooter like Humpty, though, scissors may not even be necessary.

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