South metro girls basketball preview: Game becoming a 3-for-all

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It was at first labeled a gimmick, but the 3-point shot became an equalizer in basketball that more and more teams are using as an every-game strategy.

Mountain Vista's girls are one of those teams that rely on the 3-pointer.

“That's what we do, we want to shoot 3s,” said Golden Eagles coach Mike Willahan. “We shot 600 to 700 of them last year. We made 160, which was eighth all-time in the state.

“Girls have become better shooters. They would rather shoot from 19-9 rather than a 17-18 foot mid-range jumper. If you shoot 33 percent behind the arc, it's just as good as shooting 50 percent.”

Willahan is starting his second season as Mountain Vista coach and came from a D'Evelyn program that holds the Colorado high for the most 3-pointers made in a season.

The Jaguars made 198 treys in 2008-09, 200 in 2012-13 and 201 during the 2009-10 season.

“I brought a little bit of that here,” admitted Willahan. “Our goal is to have five players on the court at all times that can shoot the 3. We want to get 3-pointers or layups. If we can do that, we can create mismatches. We can make their shot blocker/big girl come out to play defense on the perimeter. We don't have a traditional big girl.

“We want to get up the court and if we get a good look at a 3, we're going to take it. Our girls are basically trained that if they are open from 3-point land, they had better fire. I pull more girls out for not shooting than taking a shot. That has kind of always been our philosophy and will probably always be our philosophy unless we get some 7-foot girl in here.”

Last season, ThunderRidge made 6.5 3-point shots a game and Mountain Vista made 6.4. Chaparral and Arapahoe each made 4.8 3-pointers a game.

Highlands Ranch, which advanced to the Class 5A state championship game before losing to Regis Jesuit, connected on 3.1 shots per game from beyond the arc.

“Some teams shoot the 3 a lot, some teams kind of live by it, but not us,” said Falcons coach Caryn Jarocki, who is the state's all-time winningest girls basketball coach. “We'll shoot it, but it's not the primary focus of our offense. We don't have any set plays that we run to get the 3, but there are parts of all of our plays that the shot is sometime available.”

Rock Canyon returns one of the Continental League's most feared 3-point threats in senior Lexy Thorderson.

First-year Jaguars coach Becky Mudd likes what a 3-pointer provides but doesn't emphasize the shot.

“The 3-pointer is not something I build my offense around but it is fantastic when you have somebody that can knock down a 3-pointer,” she said. “What a great dynamic it adds to your offense. I'm not an extremist that we are only shooting 3s out there. It is a definite built-in option in our offense.

“It's not something that we are saying that we are only going to shoot 3s. We're saying what is the defense giving us? If they are going to leave it open or if they are going to sit in the zone, we're going to be able to hit some.”

Thorderson is a player who can take advantage of what is given.

“Lexy is such a threat from the inside which makes her such a deadly 3-point shooter too,” said Mudd. “You have to respect her inside but she can step outside and knock down a 3. To have that versatility is what makes her such a good 3-point shooter.”

Thorderson, 6-foot-1, made 55 and hit 40 percent of her 3-point attempts last season. She averaged 16.1 points a game.

“The 3-pointer is my go-to,” said Thorderson. “If they are guarding me, I like to drive to get around them but I like shooting 3s. I started shooting 3s in the fourth or fifth grade, just practicing them. I practice 3s a lot, probably more than 14- or 15-footers.”

Several other players who successfully fired away from behind the 3-point line last season include Mountain Vista's Chelsea Pearson, teammate Maddie Whetstone, Taylor Rusk of ThunderRidge, Amy Schmelzer of Castle View and Arapahoe's Jennah Knafelc.

Pearson made 51 treys, Whetstone and Rusk 38, Schmelzer 31 and Knafelc 18.

“I really enjoy shooting 3s,” said Pearson. “It's fun to get out, make them and help the team out.”