COLUMBIA — The 3-point line was adopted by major college basketball only as recently as the 1986-87 season. This year’s edition of the MU women’s basketball team would be in trouble without the ability to shoot from deep.
In a year where the Tigers have only one conference win and rank at or near the bottom of almost every major statistical category in the Big 12 Conference, the affinity and skill in firing the 3-point shot has kept the team in the thick of most games.
“We like it when we can spot up and hit an open three,” Missouricoach Cindy Stein said. “We have great shooters on the team, so it’s a quicker way to catch up when you’re behind, which we have been a lot this year.”
The leading long-distance shooter this year is junior Alyssa Hollins, and within the week, she will likely become the most prolific shooter in school history. Hollins hit 64 3-pointers last season, which was only one off the school record Amanda Lassiter set in 2000-01. With six regular season games to go, plus the Big 12 Tournament, Hollins has already nailed 62 treys.
“I think it’s a lot of my game,” Hollins said. “Shooting the three is important to me, because there’s nothing like knocking down a three or being on fire and feeling like you can’t miss from the 3-point line.”
When Hollins does hit that 66th 3-pointer to set the single-season record, she also will tie the career record of 142 set just last year by Carlynn Savant. She figures to blow away Savant, considering she still has another year of eligibility remaining.
While none of the other Tigers are preparing to set any records, every player on the roster has the capability to step up and knock down a long-range jumper. Despite the statistics, it isn’t always the first option. But Stein and her staff hope to have an open shooter on every play in case the lane is clogged.
“Every single offense we have has an option for an inside shot or a three,” Stein said. “I like to think we try to get layups first. We always talk about trying to attack the basket, to get a layup and draw a foul or get an open shot.”
The coaches don’t mind if the Tigers are taking an inordinate amount of long jumpers, as long as they come from within the confines of the offense.
“I think the most important thing that we try to stress is that they take good shots,” Stein said. “Sometimes, with young players as we’ve seen this year, their feeling of a good shot is isn’t always the same as the coaches.”
With time, Stein is confident that the players will understand the difference. Hollins, the elder statesman, only attempted 35 3-pointers as a freshman. As she gained experience in Stein’s offense, she was given the green light to take more shots. She took 166 threes last year and has already attempted 172 this season, only 16 attempts from another school record.
“Alyssa has a lot of freedom out there because she can create her own shot, whereas some of the other kids are learning what that’s all about, and getting better at it,” Stein said. “Alyssa has earned her stripes, so she knows what a good shot is. All her good shots aren’t necessarily good shots for someone else.”
Of Missouri’s other long-range specialists, sophomore Amanda Hanneman is the most consistent threat. She has hit 31 3-pointers on the year at a 36 percent clip. Multiple coaches have mentioned specific defensive plans they set up to make sure Hollins and Hanneman are never free outside the arc.
“I rely on my shot, and I’ve worked on my shot ever since I started playing basketball,” Hanneman said. “It’s one of the biggest reasons coach Stein recruited me, because of my 3-point shooting.”
A playbook like Missouri’s is perfect for a shooter like Hanneman, because she knows she will get ample opportunities to fire away.
“I love it. I’m so excited to hear them called, me and Alyssa both,” she said. “You’ve got to be excited (to shoot), but at the same time, you’ve got to knock them down. They are run specifically for you, so you’ve got to hit it to make them run it again.”
It isn’t only the guards that can light it up. Forward Jessra Johnson presents a matchup problem because of her ability to work down low against smaller players, and the skills to take bigger players outside and embarrass them with an impressive touch.
That versatility is her biggest strength. They have to choose how to play her,” Stein said. “If they put a guard on her, we’ll put her inside and she’s so strong. She can shoot up and over kids. But, if they put a taller kid on her, she maneuvers pretty well and she can knock shots down against someone slower.”
Johnson, third on the team with 22 3-pointers made, knows an advantage when she sees one, and she takes pride in her ability to expose defenders.
“If I have a bigger player on me, I know I can’t post them up, but I can take them off the dribble or pull up and shoot,” she said. “If someone smaller is guarding me, I’ll look to shoot over them. Maybe they’ll hit my hand or my elbow, and I’ll draw a foul.”
While Hanneman and Johnson readily admitted that Hollins is the best shooter, the other Tigers can rest assured that on a given night, any one of three can go off and shoot the Tigers to an upset victory.