Does Sam Thomas need to shoot more for Arizona women’s basketball?
This is not a new question. Fans often ask why Arizona is Sam Thomas doesn’t take more shots considering she’s still one of the Wildcats’ best outside shooters. Her high school coach sometimes wonders that too.
Karen Wietz coached Thomas for part of his high school career at Las Vegas Centennial High. While Weitz admires the defense Thomas plays – calling the defense the “bread and butter” of her own program – she still looks at her former player and thinks she should shoot more sometimes. Back in high school, they worked on making Thomas more comfortable shooting.
“I would put the ball in her hands and put her on the block,” Weitz said. “I would stretch her and pull her. So she got to the point where it was like, ‘Yeah, Sam, you’re going to win the game for us because the ball is going to be in your hands.’ So making her a little uncomfortable. But I think in high school we can say and do a few more things, and maybe they can’t in middle school.
Thomas remembers some of the drills Weitz did to make her a shooter and how important they were to her development as the college player she is now.
“When I came to this school, I wasn’t much of a shooter,” Thomas said. “That school made me a shooter. So at the time everyone was a little bit shorter than me, so I was playing the player position. So she just wanted me to shoot a lot of trail 3s. So, we were going like 5-0 with our offense and every time she was just like, ‘Hit Sam as a lead! Hit Sam as a lead!’ Every time I had to shoot it, so she kept making me rehearse rehearsal after rehearsal, so in the game, it was natural.
Thomas said she doesn’t necessarily look back on games and wishes she’d shot the ball at some point, but she sometimes thinks she’s not getting everything from her attacking skills.
“I don’t think I ever thought I should have shot there,” Thomas said. “But sometimes I think I could have been more aggressive.”
Arizona Head Coach Adia Barnes served in both positions during Thomas’ college career, now in its fifth year. While Barnes spoke of Thomas needing to be more aggressive at times, she also praised his restraint when it comes to taking shots. Barnes was generally pleased that Thomas didn’t take bad hits.
Taking good shots may, in fact, be why Thomas has been one of Arizona’s top 3-point shooters for most of his career. This may also explain why she doesn’t take as many as some fans might like. In the one season she took significantly more 3-point shots, her accuracy dropped just as dramatically.
According to statistics service Her Hoop Stats, Thomas has been in the 80th percentile or more for 3-point accuracy in Division I women’s basketball in four of his five years, including the current season. In the three completed seasons, she averaged 105 3-point shots per season. On a per game basis, she averages around 3.55 3PA per game.
His second season was an outlier. In 2018-19, Thomas increased his 3-point attempts to 159 all season. The Wildcats played more games that year because they won the WNIT, but his attempts per game were also much higher. Thomas had 4.3 3PA per game in the WNIT season. His highest number of attempts outside of this year was 3.74 per game last season.
This 2018-19 season is an outlier for another reason. Thomas saw her accuracy on outside shots drop, as well as her ranking among DI players. That year, she made just 32.7 percent of her 3-point shots, landing in the 60th percentile. In her other three completed seasons, she was in the 80th, 86th, and 87th percentiles in 3-point field goal percentage. This year, it is in the 84th percentile.
On a positive note, Thomas has made improvements on a 40 minute basis this year. In her second senior season, Thomas averaged five 3PAs per 40 minutes, as she did in her second season. His accuracy, however, hasn’t taken the drop it experienced in 2018-19. This year, she is making 38.8% of those shots. That’s the highest of her career, just ahead of the 38.6 percent 3-point field goal percentage she had last year.
Thomas may be known as one of the best defensemen in the nation, but her 3-point shooting is also key to extending the floor to Arizona and keeping the opposing defense honest. Given the course of her career, it’s hard to say she made bad attacking choices.