During the Kentucky women’s basketball team’s current period of free fall — as the Wildcats have lost three straight games by 20 or more points — several statistics have stuck out.
One is a lack of rebounding: UK has been outrebounded by an average of 18.67 boards during the three-game losing streak, largely due to Kentucky’s undersized roster and the suspension of leading rebounder Dre’una Edwards for Thursday night’s 25-point home loss to Florida.
To an extent this was expected and projected, as it was known rebounding likely wouldn’t be a strength for this UK team.
But if you examine Kentucky’s distance shooting, a troubling trend has continued for the Wildcats.
In its recent blowout losses to South Carolina, Tennessee and Florida, Kentucky has shot an average of 27.8% from behind the three-point line. UK failed to score more than 58 points in any of those games.
This statistic falls in line with UK’s three-point shooting over the course of its 14 games this season. The Wildcats have a 32.1% success rate shooting the three-ball.
That’s down from 34.6% last season, 36.3% during the 2019-20 season, 36.4% during the 2018-19 season and 36.8% during the 2017-18 season.
“For this team, transition threes are really good for us, rhythm threes are really good for us,” Kentucky head coach Kyra Elzy said of UK’s distance shooting after a 4-for-18 effort in the Florida loss. “I think when we become stagnant offensively and we are not moving, it forces us to take either contested threes or deeper threes because (the defense) pushed us out on the floor.”
Prior to the start of this season, women’s college basketball moved the three-point line further back.
The three-point line distance went from 20 feet, 9 inches to its current distance of 22 feet, 1¾ inches, which is the international distance.
Last season, the number of attempted and successful three-point shot attempts in all three NCAA divisions of women’s college basketball reached all-time highs.
In Division I, teams attempted an average of 16.4 three-point shots per game last season, making an average of 6.1 of those shots for an average three-point shooting percentage of 37.2%.
So far this season, the median teams at the Division I level make 5.9 three-point shots per game and have a three-point shooting percentage of 30.6%.
While the third week of January is too small a sample size by which to draw conclusions, the early returns show that three-point shooting has a lower success rate across women’s college basketball this season.
Specifically looking at UK — which again is shooting 32.1% from three-point range this season — only two players are shooting better than 37% from three-point range.
One is senior point guard Jazmine Massengill, who is 12-for-25 from deep at 48%. The other is Edwards, who is 11-for-29 from deep at 37.9%.
But neither of these two players are among UK’s top four three-point shooters by volume. That list features Rhyne Howard (31% on 22-for-71), Jada Walker (36.1% on 13-for-36), Treasure Hunt (a particularly bad 15.2% on 5-for-33) and Robyn Benton (35.5% on 11-for-31).
For all the technical aspects involved in creating offensive sets and operating them at game speed, these stats reveal an important truth: The Kentucky players who attempt the most three-point shots aren’t making enough of them.
“Right now our offensive chemistry is not clicking, we are doing too much standing,” Elzy said Thursday. “We are breaking off our plays and that is on me. We will go back and work on that at practice. When we run our sets all the way through, we are pretty efficient. But right now we are breaking them off, not attacking downhill, so we are easy to guard at the moment.”
Elzy has stressed the importance of offensive versatility for Kentucky this season, and specifically the ability for UK’s ideal starting lineup — Massengill, Benton, Howard, Hunt and Edwards — to space the floor and all be shooting threats from three-point range.
UK’s plans for its starting lineup were altered just prior to the start of this season, when senior guard Blair Green suffered a season-ending Achilles injury.
If UK is to turn around its current offensive struggles, then the Wildcats will need more consistent distance shooting by the players consistently taking those shots.
Ole Miss at No. 23 Kentucky
Where: Rupp Arena
TV: SEC Network
Radio: WLAP-AM 630
Records: Ole Miss 16-2 (4-1 SEC); UK 8-6 (1-3)
Series: Ole Miss leads 25-19
Last meeting: Ole Miss won 73-69 on Feb. 28, 2021, at Memorial Coliseum