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Watching the line

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Finding the balance between driving to the hole and firing away from 3-point range represents the latest evolution of the four-guard offense - specifically for leading scorer Sean Kilpatrick.

CINCINNATI - Sean Kilpatrick and his teammates sat in the Verizon Center locker room prior to Monday's pregame shootaround and Mick Cronin stood in front of them, rapidly shifting into tirade mode.

This was a particularly epic one.

The topic was his team relying too heavily on the 3-point and increased reluctance driving to the basket. Following a game against St. John's when the Bearcats shot 7 of 32 from 3-point range in what Cronin called one of his most embarrassing losses, the fiery coach had zero plans to hold back.


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"It was a very intense conversation," Cronin said with a smirk of understatement.

The intensity erupted midway through when Cronin slammed his hands down on a table. His Rolex snapped.

"Yeah, it was a real nice watch," Sean Kilpatrick said. "We just looked at him thinking he was going to stop and he just kept going."

Cronin didn't even notice his busted watch until after. His players did. And nothing drives home a point quite like Rolex parts scattered across the locker room floor.

"Lord knows how much money he spent on that watch," Kilpatrick said. "If he can do something like that, then that's something we need to do."

So, they did. After averaging 29 3-pointers the previous eight games, the Bearcats only shot 13 times from deep. The result? Their biggest win of the season, a 68-64 victory at No. 11 Georgetown.

"Mostly, er, all the time, whenever he says something it is true," Kilpatrick said. "When you put that in your game and believe in the coach and the system and what he is trying to teach you, it obviously works for your game."

Finding the proper balance between attacking the rim and firing away has been at the core of the necessary maturation of this developing offense for the entire team.

"It can become a crutch," Cronin said of the 3-pointer. "You can lean on that crutch too much. You rely on trying to make shots, the percentage never fails. They always even out. You take tough shots you are going to make 22 percent on average, you take great shots you are going to make 40 or more on average.

"There is no point of having a spread-out offense if all you are going to do is take bad shots. You can run whatever offense you want if you are just going to take bad shots."

Nobody more defines the dilemma more than Kilpatrick.


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In high school, he racked up 28 points per game in White Plains, N.Y. as a slasher. He penetrated the lane with the ease and finished with efficiency. Upon his arrival at UC, however, his 3-point shot developed.

Last season, he hit 37 percent, but only fired 3.5 attempts per game. His 3-pointers accounted for 47 percent of his shots. This season, those numbers grew - specifically when the offense changed to the four-guard attack.

Now, he's hitting 39 percent, but shooting seven 3-pointers per game. They account for 56 percent of his shots.

Finally, when looking at the box score where Kilpatrick launched 15 of his 21 shots from 3-point range against St. John's, Cronin approached Kilpatrick about the trend.

"The day after he was like, look at this, you got to go to the basket a lot more," he said. "This is unbelievable."

Thus evolved the latest chapter in the development of the leading scorer. Finding fixation with a 3-point shot that allowed his numbers to skyrocket, he now attempts to scale back that excitement to become the most efficient offensive weapon.

"Sometimes your strength can be your weakness," Cronin said. "You are making shots, him in particular, you can rely too much upon it. True scorers get to the foul line."

Kilpatrick, who Cronin calls the best on the the team at driving for contact, ranks among the worst three on the team in free-throw rate. For reference, 19.9 percent of his attempts this year come from the free-throw line compared to 42.9 percent for fellow guard Dion Dixon.

Against Georgetown he shot five free throws, his most since shooting six against Arkansas-Pine Bluff -- his season high.

"If they are playing your shot, you got to be able to penetrate to the basket, get your teammates some kind of open layups and get yourself going to the rim so you can at least start with your shot at the free throw line," Kilpatrick said. "If you can do that I think it will make the game a lot more easier."

That was the lesson learned Monday when Kilpatrick shot his second-most free throws and only five 3-pointers to tally a career-high 27 points.

His offensive partner Dixon followed the same model. He took out all the anger from his scoreless game Saturday on the basket. He would shoot 10 of his 15 shots inside the arc and get the free throw line for six attempts. He finished with a season high 22 points.

Utilizing an attacking mode is reactionary to the run of prolific shooting from deep. Cashmere Wright and the other guards are feeling the pressure build on the perimeter.

"Early in the season they was really letting us shoot, they wasn't really pushing us off the line like that," Wright said. "Right now, it's hard to get an open 3. Every time you are open somebody is running out there wanting you to go to the hole and shoot."

Thus the obvious frustration from Cronin. If the defenders want you to go to the hole and shoot, then happily accept the invitation.

Clearly, the conversation in the locker room of the Verizon Center was a long time coming but was one that needed to occur at that moment. Inevitably, it bought Cronin a win - as well as a trip to his watch guy.

"It's going to cost me a lot of money, that conversation," he said.

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