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How red-hot shooting BYU is bucking a national trend by making 3s in bunches — despite a deeper 3-point line

The 3-point line was moved back 16 inches this season but the Cougars are shooting 42% from the 3 this year, compared to 33% a year ago.

Brigham Young Cougars guard TJ Haws (30) celebrates his 3-pointer in Provo on Saturday, Feb. 8, 2020.
Brigham Young Cougars guard TJ Haws (30) celebrates his 3-pointer in Provo on Saturday, Feb. 8, 2020.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

PROVO — Starting with this 2019-2020 college basketball season, the NCAA moved the 3-point line back from 20 feet, 9 inches to 22 feet, 1¾ inches, equalling the international distance. The purpose was to create a more free-flowing game.

For the No. 17 BYU basketball team, the deeper distance has resulted in much better shooting this season.

The Cougars shot 33% (226 of 684) a year ago, ranking them No. 249th in the country in 3-point shooting from the shorter 3-point line.

Currently, BYU ranks No. 1 in 3-point percentage at 42.2% (318 of 754) from the longer distance. The Cougars average 10.6 3-pointers per game — No. 4 in the country — and they’re No. 2 in total 3-pointers made.

“What makes BYU’s improvement from 3-point range so noteworthy? The rest of the country has been a tick worse,” wrote Jake Lourim of fivethirtyeight.com. Lourim noted that as of last week, Division I teams were shooting 33.2% from 3-point territory. “Over a full season, that would be the lowest national mark in the history of the 3-point line.”

BYU, meanwhile, is making 3-pointers at an astounding rate. As a team, the Cougars have recorded double-digit 3-pointers 16 times in 30 games. Senior guard Jake Toolson is No. 4 in the nation in 3-point shooting percentage at 46.2% — and he routinely shoots 3-pointers that are 25 feet and beyond.

So how is BYU, which visits Pepperdine Saturday (4 p.m., MST, CBS SN) in its regular-season finale, bucking the national trend by draining shots in bunches from a deeper 3-point distance?

First, coach Mark Pope readily credits his players for this year’s 3-point shooting success. “Ninety-nine percent of it is that we have good players,” he said. “We have talented shooters.”

Beyond that, Pope’s offensive approach is all about spacing the floor, emphasizing shot selection and finding the open shooter, and his players “owning” the shots they take. It’s served the Cougars well. BYU is one of the most efficient offensive teams in college basketball.

Pope has studied and applied the work of renowned researcher Angela Duckworth, author of “Grit — The Power of Passion and Perseverance.”

“I’m a huge subscriber to Angela Duckworth’s research on deliberate practice. I think it’s real,” he said. “Our guys embraced that wholeheartedly this summer. ... Our guys have also been really generous with each other about buying into this idea of what (shots) they turn down, of having the discretion that their decision-making is filled with what they turn down to get other stuff and the other stuff has been really good for us.”

The Cougars knocked down 17 of 28 3-pointers on Jan. 31 against Pepperdine, tying a then-school record for most 3s in a game. It marked the second time this season BYU had hit 17 3-pointers.

Then a couple of weeks later, on Feb. 13, the Cougars set a new school record with 18 3s at Loyola Marymount. Six different players hit at least one 3-pointer, and Alex Barcello led the way by drilling 6 of 8 from long distance.

Brigham Young Cougars guard Jake Toolson (5) yells during the game against the Gonzaga Bulldogs at the Marriott Center in Provo on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020.
Brigham Young Cougars guard Jake Toolson (5) yells during the game against the Gonzaga Bulldogs at the Marriott Center in Provo on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

“That comes from having an extremely unselfish team,” said guard TJ Haws, who is shooting 38% from 3-point range. “I feel like our team is trying to find the best shot. When guys are feeling it, we try to find those guys. Anybody is capable of making a lot of shots every night.”

In BYU’s 91-78 upset of No. 2 Gonzaga last Saturday, it drilled 11 of 27 3-pointers, including five by Toolson.

“We shoot the ball really well. We share the ball. We get great looks offensively by sharing the ball,” Toolson said. “What I love about us is, when we don’t shoot the ball well we respond by taking the same shots, finishing them and eventually we knock them down at a high clip. We keep trusting in each other to take the right shots and they’re going to fall.”

No. 17 BYU (23-7, 12-3) at Pepperdine (15-14, 8-7)

Saturday, 4 p.m. MST

Firestone Fieldhouse

TV: CBS SN

Radio: 1160 AM, BYU Radio