Better shooting is McKenzie’s goal

After a 1-for-5 outing last week, the senior guard is looking for improvement tonight.

Zach Eisendrath

Moments after the Minnesota men’s basketball team convincingly beat Colorado State on Wednesday night, senior guard Lawrence McKenzie was back on the elevated Williams Arena floor working on his jump shot.

Unpleased with a 1-for-5 shooting performance, which netted four points in 25 minutes of action, McKenzie wanted to quickly regain his shooting touch.

It wasn’t the first time McKenzie, who hopes to help lead the Gophers to their fourth-straight win tonight when they host South Dakota State, has worked on his shot immediately following a game, but it was the first time he implemented the routine into his regime this season.

Minnesota’s leading scorer last year, averaging 14.9 points per game, McKenzie is currently third on the team in scoring this season with 10.7 points per contest.

McKenzie said he is the biggest critic of his shot, which is why he is always working to improve his game.

“When I have open shots, that’s something I have to make,” he said. “I consider myself a shooter, and when you’re open, you are supposed to make those shots.”

Finding the touch

At the team’s season-opening media day in early October, coach Tubby Smith called his first group of Gophers the best shooting team he has coached.

After seven games, the coach said he changed his mind.

“We can be better. We’ve taken some tough shots early (this season),” he said.

Smith said four of his five starters can shoot better, but thinks they will.

He noted McKenzie suffering a hip injury and junior guard Jamal Abu-Shamala dealing with a preseason hand injury as two reasons the typically sharpshooting duo have struggled to be consistent through seven games.

Game breakdown

Minnesota (6-1 overall, 0-0 Big Ten), which enters tonight’s game 10-0 all-time against South Dakota State (3-5 overall, 0-0 Summit), has been focused on contesting shots after giving up open looks to the Rams last Wednesday, quickly trimming a 32-point lead in half.

That preparation should help against a Jackrabbits squad which runs a motion offense predicated on jump shots.

“All their players can shoot the ball,” Smith said.

On the horizon

During winter break the Gophers play nine times, including five Big Ten games.

After a home game Dec. 22 against Santa Clara, Minnesota concludes its 2007 slate when it travels to Las Vegas for the “Duel in the Desert” against Nicholls State, Kennesaw State and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas on three consecutive days (Dec. 28, 29, 30).

After ringing in the new year, the Gophers begin their conference slate on Jan. 5 when they travel to East Lansing, Mich., to face Tom Izzo’s Michigan State Spartans. The team’s conference home-opener is Jan 9. against Northwestern.

Minnesota, which hosts nationally ranked Indiana on Jan. 17 and Michigan State on Jan. 20 realize how important a rowdy “barn” can be to the teams’ success.

McKenzie said the fans have been giving the players a spark so far this season and hopes they will continue once the Big Ten season begins.

“There is definitely a lot more energy. The fans are louder,” he said. “I think they are enjoying the type of basketball we are playing – and who doesn’t enjoy winning and guys working hard to get wins?”