Brittany Ezell never hesitated to pull up and shoot from downtown. In fact, a good portion of her 2,000-plus career points at Franklin High and 1,022 points at the University of Alabama came from behind the 3-point line.
Ezell said she relied on the 3-ball for a good reason.
“I had to, because I couldn’t see the basket the closer I got,” Ezell said. “I was 5-foot-5, so you try to stay at a range where you can actually see the basket.”
Now the women’s basketball coach at Belmont, Ezell often sees shots chucked up from well behind the arc. Thus, it didn’t shock her when the NCAA Women’s Basketball Rules Committee agreed last week to move the 3-point line back one foot to 20 feet, 9 inches — matching it with the men’s distance.
The men’s game moved to the current mark before the 2008-09 season. That led to the two 3-point lines seen on many courts that feature both men’s and women’s games.
The rules committee asked teams to chart the distance of 3-point shots in women’s games last year, and 194 schools turned in their findings. The numbers showed that 63.7 percent (3,303 shots) of the 5,026 attempts came from behind the men’s mark.
“I didn’t feel strongly either way,” Vanderbilt coach Melanie Balcomb said. “The two lines were kind of confusing with the men’s game, so most of our kids pretty much shoot behind that second line anyway. I think it will help spread the floor a little bit and open the game up a little bit.”
Both Vanderbilt and Belmont leaned on the 3-pointer last season.
The Commodores were second in the Southeastern Conference in 3-point percentage, making 34.9 percent (180) of their 516 attempts. Tennessee led the league in 3-point makes (242) and attempts (642).
In the Atlantic Sun Conference, Belmont was third in attempts with 611 3-point shots, behind Lipscomb (691) and Florida Gulf Coast (940). Middle Tennessee State was first in the Sun Belt Conference with 603 attempts, making 34.3 percent (207).
“I wouldn’t think you’ll see a measurable difference [in attempts] from last year,” Balcomb said. “I can’t speak for everybody, but I think your 3-point shooters and your teams that shoot a lot of 3s will continue to do so.”
Ezell laughed at the notion that her players would become gun-shy from farther away.
“Have you ever seen my kids in practice? They’ll kick it up there,” Ezell said. “If you can shoot, you can shoot — regardless of that little stripe on the line. There are high school kids out there who are shooting it three, four feet, well behind the line. I think it is just something that is evolving. It is something that kids are adding to their game early. They do have range and are able to shoot the basketball.”
The move could be seen as a big step for the women’s game, which is often compared to the men’s sport — for better or worse, and whether players and coaches want it to be or not. For many in the women’s basketball community, staying on par with the men’s game is significant.
“I think you don’t want to have a double standard,” Ezell said. “You don’t want people to think the women are incapable of doing certain things. Obviously we are never going to play above the rim the way the men do. But I think it opens up the women’s game for a little more athleticism, for the girls to show off a little more range.”
Attendance last season for NCAA women’s games in all three divisions ranked second all-time, as the total surpassed 11 million for the fourth straight year. In Division I women’s basketball, attendance reached a new high of more than 8 million.
Vanderbilt ranked 20th in Division I, as home games at Memorial Gymnasium increased to an average of 4,589 fans per 15 home games. Middle Tennessee State ranked 29th with an average of 3,589 per 13 home games at the Murphy Center. Tennessee led the nation with an average of 12,599 fans per 17 games at Thompson Boling Arena.
Interest appears to be high for the women’s game, and the rule change could add some excitement. Yes, it will make the men’s and women’s game equal on that front. But to some, that isn’t the most important thing.
“I never compare the men’s game,” Balcomb said. “Personally, I think we need to stop comparing and appreciate the women’s game for the women’s game. I think if anything, it was just confusing to have two lines out there on the court. Visually, it will help the players and the fans.”