Once during his redshirt sophomore year, Zeglinski shot 5 for 36 from three-point range during an eight-game stint. Last season, he made 4 of 21 three-pointers over the course of four games. As recently as November, he shot 3 for 13 from beyond the arc over three games.
This is not an attempt to emphasize Zeglinski’s droughts. Rather, it is an effort to demonstrate that a guy who has made more three-point attempts than all but five players in Virginia program history* had to learn long ago how to overcome stretches of poor shooting.
* The top six most prolific three-point shooters (in terms of made attempts) in Cavaliers history: 1) Curtis Staples, 413; 2) Harold Deane, 237; 3) Sean Singletary, 222; 4) J.R. Reynolds, 221; 5) John Crotty, 179; 6) Sammy Zeglinski, 172.
So immediately following Virginia’s 61-58 loss last Thursday at Duke – a defeat in which Zeglinski shot 0 for 8 from the field and 0 for 5 from three-point range – he was upset. Extremely upset, according to roommate Joe Harris. The next day, Harris said, Zeglinski mostly kept to himself. And then when the team reconvened for practice Saturday, Zeglinski went right back to launching shot after shot from the perimeter, just as he’s always done.
Zeglinski said Monday that his shooting troubles at Duke could mostly be attributed to technical mistakes. He was holding the ball too long before releasing it, and he also was dropping his hands too quickly upon release, flicking the ball instead of lofting it.
“It’s just a matter of shooting the ball on your way up, instead of getting to the top of your release and holding it for a second too long,” Zeglinski said. “Just getting your hand underneath the ball so you’re not flat on your shot. It’s just more of an up-motion so you’re getting arc on the ball. In the Duke game, I was pulling down my hands for some reason.”
Earlier in the season, Zeglinski said, he had more lift on his shot and was holding his follow-through. Those are the good habits he’s trying to get back to. Following Monday’s practice, he spent a few extra minutes working one-on-one with Coach Tony Bennett to try to rediscover the stroke that, entering conference play, had Zeglinski shooting 43.3 percent from three-point range.
After two ACC contests – during which he shot a combined 2 for 12 from beyond the arc – Zeglinski’s three-point shooting average has dipped to 39.2 percent, which still ranks No. 4 in the ACC.
What makes Zeglinski unique relative to Virginia’s other key contributors is that, at least thus far, his offensive value has been directly tied to his three-point shooting. This season, 73.8 percent (79 of 107) of the shots Zeglinski has attempted have been from beyond the arc. Of the three other Cavaliers guards who are averaging more than 20 minutes per game, none* of them is taking more than 48 percent of their shots from three-point range.
* Harris has taken 47.5 percent (68 of 143) of his shots from three-point range. Freshman guard Malcolm Brogdon has taken 43.9 percent (40 of 91) of his shots from three-point range. Junior guard Jontel Evans has taken 9 percent (7 of 78) from three-point range.
Again, this is not meant to be judgmental. Zeglinski has been a solid three-point shooter for most of his collegiate career. As Bennett said Monday, “If it’s a good shot for Sammy, he’s got to take it.”
But the trend does indicate that Zeglinski has become increasingly reliant upon his three-point shot as his time at Virginia has progressed. In 2008-09, Zeglinski took 49.3 percent of his shots from three-point range. That percentage jumped to 64.3 in 2009-10 and again to 67.2 last season.
It also should be noted that – thus far, at least – Zeglinski’s three-point shooting accuracy has increased each season, as well. He shot 31.4 percent from beyond the arc in 2008-09, 37.7 percent in 2009-10, 38.7 percent in 2010-11 and is shooting 39.2 percent this season.
But here’s the thing:
“I don’t want him to be defined by if his outside shot is going in, because as a good player, if your shot’s off, then you find other ways, through distributing or trying maybe to get to the line a little bit, get a drive or create for someone else,” Bennett said. “You’ve got to find alternate ways. But if you have an open shot, you have to take it.
“Everybody has games where they’re streaky, but you’ve got to keep shooting. [Zeglinski] has hit too many big shots for us and had too many good offensive outputs to pass up shots. But if you’re not feeling it, then you find other ways to contribute. . . . I think his experience, hopefully, will guide him in what’s a good shot and when to look for other ways” to produce.
This will be the primary challenge for Zeglinski for the rest of the season, walking the fine line between trying to find his shot when it temporarily abandons him and understanding that on some nights, his shot simply won’t be found. On those nights, the Cavaliers need Zeglinski to come through for them in other ways. They can’t afford for him to fire up shot after shot, hoping that one of them falls, when perhaps an extra pass or a drive-and-kick might increase the chances for a more positive result.
To some extent, Zeglinski did that at Duke. He did finish with five assists. But he also tallied three turnovers, and a few of the shots he took weren’t the best looks.
Zeglinski’s offensive role on this year’s team – dependent as it is on his three-point shooting – is not simple or easy. But as one of Virginia’s most experienced players, it is one he is expected to be able to handle. Zeglinski has done an adequate job thus far, but as the conference season progresses, he is one of the players from whom the Cavaliers will need more in order to continue their success.
At some point, Zeglinski’s shooting will turn around. Perhaps that will be the case Thursday when Virginia plays at Georgia Tech. But even when it does, Zeglinski said he aims to be more multi-dimensional in the coming months. The ankle injury he suffered preseason hampered his ability to penetrate to the basket early on, but now that the ankle feels better, he said he’ll be able to get to the rim more efficiently when necessary.
“I’m going to turn down some shots, probably, but I’m still going to be able to get my fair share of looks from three, as well, because that’s one of my strengths,” Zeglinski said. “It’s the mixture of both.”