Make Shots, Win Basketball Games

Why Shooting Percentage Matters, from UCSB to Foothill Elementary School

Hoop Shoot California/Hawaii champions Gabe Cordero, left, and Carly Letendre practice  before the Vegas shootout.

Paul Wellman

Hoop Shoot California/Hawaii champions Gabe Cordero, left, and Carly Letendre practice before the Vegas shootout.

Among the many factors that determine the success of a basketball team, shooting percentages are the most telling statistic. The whole point of the game is to put the ball in the basket, and it’s hard to win if more than 60 percent of your shots are misfires.

The story of UCSB’s most losing season in men’s basketball — a 4-21 record through last weekend — is told by the Gauchos’ last-place numbers in all Big West Conference shooting categories: overall field goals (37.1 percent), three-point shots (28.1 percent), and free throws (63.9 percent).

It must be noted that UCSB lost its two best finishers in the paint — Jalen Canty (55 percent) and Ami Lakoju (61 percent) — because of academic ineligibility in December. Without a strong inside presence, it’s been tough for the perimeter players to get open shots.

In their 66-48 loss to Long Beach State last Saturday, the Gauchos couldn’t even make free throws. They went 3-for-11 from the charity stripe. “That’s about as bad as it gets,” an exasperated Coach Bob Williams said.

Westmont College may play at a level a notch below NCAA Division I, but the Warriors surely can shoot. Here is why they have a 22-5 record and are ranked highly in the NAIA: They are making 51.3 percent of all their shots from the floor, and a robust 44.9 percent from three-point range.

Scott Everman, a freshman at UC San Diego in NCAA Division II, put on shooting clinic last Saturday in the Tritons’ 88-67 victory over Humboldt State. The 6'7" forward from Santa Barbara (San Marcos High) buried eight of 15 three-point shots and scored 28 points, the most by a UCSD player in two years. Opponents know better than to foul Everman, as he is almost perfect from the free-throw line this season: 24 for 25 (96 percent).

A pair of 3rd graders at Goleta’s Foothill Elementary School are taking after Everman. Carly Letendre and Gabriel Cordero are the champion shooters from California/Hawai'i in the Elks Hoop Shoot, a national free-throw contest. Letendre, 9, and Cordero, 8, progressed through four stages of competition, and this weekend they will vie in the West Regional contest at Las Vegas.

At the state contest earlier this month in Torrance, Letendre became a repeat champion in the 8-9 division by making 23 out of 25 free throws, the best among 15 girls. Competing with 18 other boys, Cordero also sank 23 shots, but he had to go into a five-shot tiebreaker. He made all five to emerge the winner with 28 for 30. It’s the first time that two youngsters sponsored by the Santa Barbara Elks Lodge have made it to the West Regional.

“The girls will be tougher [in Las Vegas],” Letendre said. “It will be hard to beat them.” There are 12 regionals throughout the nation that will send a total of 72 shooters to the national finals in Chicago — out of more than three million who have participated in the Hoop Shoot.

Letendre and Cordero are neighbors. She has a hoop in the driveway, and he practices at an outdoor neighborhood hoop. “I normally like to take 100-170 shots a day,” Cordero said. The Hoop Shoot baskets are at the regulation height of 10 feet, but the youngest age division (8-9) shoots from a distance of 11 feet rather than 15.

Both Letendre and Cordero have slept next to their basketballs. “When I woke up, it was right there,” she said. “I like the feel of it,” Cordero said of the pebbled surface.  “I’m used to touching it.”

Their shooting techniques are similar: Dribble once, twice —then Letendre pauses for a moment, while Cordero spins the ball in his right hand — and then take a deep breath and shoot. “I look at the front of the rim but aim for the back,” Cordero said. “Most of them swish. I put a spin on the ball so it comes back if it’s long.”

They play other sports such as soccer, softball, and baseball, but basketball is their favorite. Cordero plays on a traveling club team and said, “I like to keep track of assists.” Letendre is a gunner on her YMCA team. “My coach calls me Carly Buckets,” she said.

Joseph Talerico, a 12-year-old from Isla Vista School, also put on a show in the Elks Hoop Shoot state contest, but he fell short after making 32 of 35 shots.

CIF PLAYOFFS: Nothing comes easy in the postseason. Two Channel League champions had to sweat out close victories in their CIF Southern Section playoff openers last weekend. The Dos Pueblos Chargers (22-4) got a last-minute bucket from Diego Riker to send their Division 2A basketball game against Saugus into overtime, and they pulled out a 75-65 victory.

In the Division 1 soccer playoffs, the No. 3–seeded Santa Barbara Dons (20-1-5) were down 1-0 at halftime against the Century Centurions, and their attack was sputtering. They moved the ball with more skill in the second half, and when a long throw-in by Guillermo Mendoza dropped between defenders, freshman Juan Carlos Torres hammered the game-tying goal for the Dons. They went ahead 2-1 moments later with senior Luis Alfaro’s leaping header off a corner kick, and they withstood an all-out Century assault in the final minutes.

“It was exciting,” senior goalkeeper Juan Santana said. “The ref added a lot of extra time. I thought, ‘When is this going to end?’”

The Dons have made 17 consecutive playoff appearances under coach Todd Heil and won two CIF championships, the last in 2010. They reached the final last year and lost to Loyola, 3-1. The teams were set for a rematch in the second round on Wednesday at Loyola, which pounded Simi Valley 6-1 in another first-rounder.

“There are no bad teams in this division,” Heil said, noting that four of the top 10 seeds were upset in the first round. He said the Dons have a quality that makes him anxious but suits them well under adversity. “They fall behind, but it never fazes them.”

In girls’ water polo, the top seeds all made it to Wednesday’s final four in Irvine. Trying to break up an Orange County final are No. 3 San Marcos (against No. 2 Mater Dei) and No. 4 Dos Pueblos (against No. 1 Laguna Beach).

GAME OF THE WEEK

2/24-2/26: College Baseball: Tulane at UCSB Despite losing their opening series at Loyola (the games were moved to L.A. because the rains swamped UCSB’s diamond), the Gauchos have high expectations after making their first appearance in the College World Series last spring. Junior shortstop Clay Fisher and left-handed pitcher Kyle Nelson have been tabbed as preseason All-Americans. Tulane is coming off a 40-win season and its 21st appearance in the NCAA tournament. Green Wave outfielder Lex Kaplan and first baseman Hunter “Big Country” Williams will be in familiar territory. They helped the Santa Barbara Foresters capture their sixth National Baseball Congress championship last summer. Fri.-Sat.: 2pm; Sun.: 1pm. Caesar Uyesaka Stadium, UCSB. $5-$8. Call 893-UCSB (8272) or visit ucsbgauchos.com.

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