March 18, 2005
By Dwight Chapin
Michelle Bento-Jackson's team leads the nation's Division I teams in 3-point baskets, with 263 in 30 games for an average of 8.8 a game, third- best in the country, and is 13th in accuracy (37.5 percent).
"My players definitely have the green light when they're open," Bento- Jackson said. "I wouldn't say we focus totally on 3-pointers. We're looking for balance in our game. But it's definitely not something we're going to go away from, either."
Bento-Jackson didn't start her basketball career with this kind of mind- set.
The 3-point rule was not yet in effect when she was in high school. As a player at Fresno State in the late 1980s and early '90s, she says she was "more of a distributing point guard -- definitely not the kind of shooter I have on this team."
But when she took over as head coach at Santa Clara three seasons ago from Chris Denker, who also was a proponent of long-range shooting, she began recruiting players who could make 3-pointers.
"My philosophy is you never can have enough shooters," she said, "and we've been fortunate to have some very good ones."
Graham, a 5-foot-7 sophomore left-hander from Redmond, Wash., typifies the thinking of the Broncos' shooting brigade.
"She expects the ball to go in every time," Bento-Jackson said.
"If I didn't think that way, there would be no point in shooting," Graham responded.
In the West Coast Conference tournament championship win that put Santa Clara into the NCAAs, Graham had 17 first-half points, including four 3- pointers. Cozad added two long-range 3s and Thomas one as the Broncos built a 14-point halftime lead. Thomas then connected on two more 3s at the start of the second half and the Zags never recovered.
"When you hit two or three 3s in a row," Graham said, "it's kind of like a dagger going into the other team. Instead of being up six points, you're up 12."
Said Cozad: "And it can energize your team, too. If you hit shots and are feeling good, everyone on the bench gets pumped up and into it, and everything builds. You start getting defensive stops, too."
Santa Clara, which this season surpassed its own WCC record of 200 3- pointers and set a new league tournament mark with 30, does have other ways to beat you, as Cozad noted.
"I'm always trying to be aggressive," she said, "but if my shots are not falling from the outside, I try to drive to the basket and make other things happen."
In the WCC semifinals, the Broncos hit just twice from long distance, yet still beat Loyola Marymount by nine points.
But Thomas will be the only departing player from the shooting brigade, so you can bet the Broncos' offensive approach is not going to change a whole lot.
It will still be shoot first from the outside, and think about it later.