Dawn Staley breaks down USC’s approach to position-less basketball, 3-pointers
Seven games into the 2017-2018 season, the South Carolina women’s basketball record book looked like it was about to be rewritten, not only by A’ja Wilson, which most everyone expected, but also by Lindsey Spann.
Spann, a 5-foot-6 graduate transfer from Penn State, had already attempted 40 3-point shots, or 5.71 per game, hitting 55 percent of them. Had she continued at that rate for the entire season, she would have approached numerous program records.
The 3-point revolution is now firmly entrenched in modern basketball. Over the past five years or so, virtually every level of the sport has become obsessed with high-efficiency shots — layups and 3-pointers are in, midrange jumpers are out as teams try to maximize every fraction of a point per attempt.
“You do look at the analytics of the next level, and points per possession, and a 3 vs. a 2, you look, you don’t have as many traditional forwards today that just sit inside the block. The game has changed with the versatility of the athletes and their skill set,” Florida coach Cam Newbauer said at SEC media day this past week.
But at South Carolina, that revolution has mostly missed Dawn Staley’s teams. That might change in 2018-2019.
In her first decade as head coach at USC, Staley’s teams have had a 3-point rate, or number of 3-point attempts as a percentage of overall number of shots, above 30 percent just once, in 2010-2011. Last year, it dipped to 21.7 percent, 334th out of 349 teams in the NCAA, according to Her Hoop Stats.
Meanwhile, the NCAA’s overall 3-point rate has steadily increased over the past 10 years, rising nearly five percent to 31.7 this past season.
“We feel like now we have to be able to shoot the 3 at all four spots 1-4, and then if your 5 can shoot it, that’s even a bonus,” Alabama coach Kristi Curry said of the current basketball landscape at SEC media day. “Everybody wants to shoot 3, everyone wants to play on the perimeter.”
When they have shot the 3, the Gamecocks have been good but not great, peaking at a 34.9 percent make rate and a national ranking of 47th in 2014-2015. Top programs like Connecticut, Baylor, Louisville and conference rival Mississippi State have shot anywhere from 37 percent to above 40.
Of course, South Carolina hasn’t needed the 3-pointer to cement its rise to national prominence — bigs like Alaina Coates, A’ja Wilson and Alexis Jennings have combined over the past five years to anchor Staley’s lineups and produce some of the best scoring offenses in the country while rarely stepping beyond the arc.
“I hope that we can add that element to our play,’ Staley said after the Gamecock Tipoff event on Oct. 5. “It helps open the floor up for us. Obviously a lot of people have packed it in for the last few years, and by us being able to shoot and hit some 3s, it’s something that we’ve been working on throughout the summer and the fall, that we have to be a better 3-point shooting team in order for us to utilize some of the other skill sets we have.”
However, of the seven listed guards on the 2018-2019 roster, none have yet shown themselves to be prolific sharpshooters — Bianca Jackson, a rising sophomore, led USC last season, going 41 of 104 from beyond the arc, but it wasn’t enough to even qualify for the NCAA leaderboard. Newcomers Nelly Perry, Te’a Cooper and Destanni Henderson aren’t particularly known for their long range either.
The plan, Staley said, is to get her shooters open, uncontested looks.
“A lot of our 3s will come in transition,” Staley said at SEC media day. “We get down the floor, we get our feet set, they know to shoot the ball ... we want to do it a lot more in transition, where we get open shots and we keep defenses off-balance.”
Getting up and down in transition goes hand in hand with how South Carolina plans to deal with its logjam of guards with starting experience.
“We will have to play a more up-tempo style, where we’ll press a little bit more than we’ve pressed in the past few years because we have to exhaust them,” Staley said. “There are going to be people sitting on the bench who are able to impact the game.”