Gophers Basketball
See more of the story

If the Gophers hadn't hit 17 three-pointers against Iowa at home this season they might not have what currently is the best win on their NCAA tournament resume.

But beyond that record-setting Christmas Day shooting display there really isn't another victory this season where Richard Pitino and his basketball team could say three-point shooting was the answer.

In fact, it seems to be the opposite. It might be the problem when the offense stalls.

The No. 23 Gophers (10-4, 3-4 in the Big Ten), who host No. 7 Michigan on Saturday, have often gone with a live-or-die approach with three-point shooting. Problem is they're not able to live on it much, ranking last in the Big Ten in three-point shooting percentage (30.3%).

Relying on outside shots even when the jumpers aren't falling appears part of the reason the Gophers struggled mightily on offense in four road losses this season, including in Sunday's 86-71 loss at Iowa. They shot 10-for-34 from three (29.4%).

Gophers men's basketball statistics

"It's hard to turn down open shots," Pitino said Sunday. "They're going to dare you a little bit to make them. You got to be a little bit smarter and say, 'We're not hitting right now. Let's attack that lane. Throw it inside and kick out.'"

The Gophers went 17-of-43 (school record for attempts) from three in the 102-95 overtime win Dec. 25 against the Hawkeyes at home, including 5-for-7 in overtime. They rank 14th in the Big Ten in three-point percentage, but they're attempting the fourth most threes in the conference (26.1).

Only Penn State (27.0), Iowa (26.6) and Nebraska (26.5) shot as many threes per game as the Gophers through Monday.

But the Hawkeyes (39.3%) and Nittany Lions (37.3%) rank fourth and fifth in the Big Ten in three-point shooting. That's just part of what they do best. Meanwhile, the Cornhuskers (32% shooting from three) are like the Gophers struggling through an identity crisis. They aren't accepting the fact that they probably shouldn't be shooting threes as often.

In the first half Sunday, the Gophers shot 4-for-17 from three, but they trailed only 39-37 at halftime at Iowa. The offense was boosted by 14 points in the paint and 7-for-10 free throws. In the second half, they shot 6-for-17 from three, but they got only six points in the paint and shot just 4-for-6 at the foul line.

Back-to-back threes from Both Gach and Jamal Mashburn Jr. cut it to a five-point deficit with 5 12 minutes to play, but the Gophers couldn't get any closer. Seven of their last eight shots were threes.

The Gophers' defensive issues (Iowa shot 71% in the second half) compounded their shooting struggles to the point where the Hawkeyes pulled away.

But Gophers star point guard Marcus Carr, who averaged 21.5 points entering Sunday, got away from what makes him so tough to guard. Driving downhill and attacking the basket. He finished with 13 points on 5-for-19 shooting from the field and zero free throws.

Carr shot 3-for-11 from three. It was only the second time in his career he attempted more than 10 threes. The other was when he went 6-for-12 from deep in the win vs. Iowa at home, while shooting only three field goals inside the arc. But Carr was 6-for-8 at the foul line.

Senior forward Brandon Johnson had 26 points on 8-for-9 threes in the first meeting with the Hawkeyes. He was only 2-for-11 from three before that record performance. And he's made just one three-pointer in 10 attempts since then. Johnson still leads the Gophers with 37.9% shooting from long distance.

"A game like last time we just expect something like that to happen again," Johnson said of the 17 threes in the first Iowa game. "I've settled for wide open three instead of attacking the rim. It's something we have to fix as a group for sure."

Carr (36.3), Gach (34.8) and 7-footer Liam Robbins (34.5) are the U's next three most accurate three-point shooters after Johnson this season. But you could probably make the case they're better scoring closer to the basket.

Gabe Kalscheur (22.7%), Jamal Mashburn Jr. (21.9%) and Isaiah Ihnen (19.4%) join Carr among the five Gophers with the most three-point attempts. They're definitely more comfortable taking jumpers.

Pitino probably would've told you Kalscheur, Mashburn and Ihnen were his best shooters going into the season, but they just aren't hitting threes consistently right now.

How can the Gophers make it easier on themselves to snap out of offensive slumps moving forward, especially if teams dare them to shoot jumpers? The answer might be shooting fewer threes.

"We can't really be mad because sometimes they're good looks that weren't falling," Johnson said. "But sometimes we do fall in love with that shot."