MISSOULA — Against Northern Colorado on Saturday, Montana guard Ahmaad Rorie went a full game without attempting a 3-pointer for the first time in his two seasons with the Griz.
Instead of forcing up an ill-advised shot, he focused on driving to the rim — to draw fouls — and setting up other players, especially with the Bears not double-teaming forward Jamar Akoh, who scored a career-high 34 points.
As he's continued to work on reps and tried to stay confident, he’s shooting 58.8 percent (10 of 17) on 3-pointers in conference play. During the 12 non-conference games, he shot 27.6 percent (21 of 76).
“(At the) beginning of the year, I wasn’t ready for shots when I needed to be when they were coming,” Rorie said. “Lately, I’ve been trying to stay ready to shoot and have my hands up. Either if I’m dribbling the ball or when the ball comes to me, just try to be ready so I can knock it down.”
It’s not just Rorie; the Griz as a team have improved their 3-point shooting in recent weeks. The key has been the combination of Akoh’s inside presence and better shot selection.
In four conference games, they’ve shot 40.7 percent from downtown, the second-best mark in the Big Sky behind Idaho’s 42.7 percent. Compare that to their 12 non-conference games when they shot 30.7 percent and ranked 10th out of 12 Big Sky teams.
“It’s who’s taking them, when we’re taking them and how we’re taking them,” Griz head coach Travis DeCuire said. “We’re taking good ones: wide open, inside-out, feet set, as opposed to off the dribble, off balance.”
It was worse through their first 10 games, when they were shooting just 26.6 percent, well below the 35 to 38 percent DeCuire was hoping to see coming into the season. Since that 10th game — against UC Riverside — Akoh started to establish a consistent presence in the paint and the Griz have shot 40.5 percent.
With Akoh down low, they're able to play inside-out instead of passing around the perimeter. Although UNC defended him one on one, his strong play could force an extra defender to help and leave a shooter open outside.
“That’s the biggest part of it,” DeCuire said. “The ball goes in and either they help or people lose vision and we can relocate. It’s just easier to shoot the ball coming from the rim because you’re already squared to the rim. We don’t have to do anything — just shoot it.”
Having guards drive to the rim could also help collapse defenses. The emergence of Timmy Falls on offense gives the Griz another ballhandler for defenses to be concerned about and has helped guards like Rorie shoot more off the catch than off the dribble.
“Penetration is the key,” DeCuire said. “The more we penetrate, the higher percentage shots we’ll get on the perimeter.”
They've increased their 3-point shooting percentage by being selective in the shots they take.
Since attempting 22 against Georgia State, they’re averaging 14.6 attempts over the past seven games — including a season-low seven against UNC — compared to 20.1 in their first nine games. They’re doing more with less as they’ve made 5.6 the past seven games after 5.3 in the first nine.
They had their worst 3-point night in a 4-of-25 performance against Stanford. The Cardinal closed the game on a 26-4 run and the Griz missed all 12 of their 3-point attempts during that stretch as they tried to shoot themselves out of that slump and then back into the game.
There's no number of attempts DeCuire has in mind; it's about getting the best possible shot.
“There could be a game where Ahmaad (Rorie) and Bob (Moorehead) take 10 each because they’re wide open," he said. "It’s not necessarily how many you take; it’s the ones you take.”
Other players have come on strong, too. Falls is shooting 57.1 percent (8 of 14) after he missed his first eight attempts in eight games. Mike Oguine is 4 of 12 (33.3 percent) in conference after starting 9 of 45 (20 percent). Although Moorehead is in a 1-of-9 slump, he’s shooting 39.3 percent (11 of 28) the past seven games after starting 16 of 49 (32.7 percent).
It’s also who’s not taking shots, which has helped their percentage increase. Sayeed Pridgett has attempted just one 3-pointer after going 1 of 7 in non-conference play. Fabijan Krslovic has taken one since going 0 of 5 in the first two games. Akoh hasn’t attempted any since Nov. 20.
“If we get the right ones for the right people,” DeCuire said, “our percentages will catch up.”