Shipp's shooting will go a long way to deciding UCLA's future
SAN ANTONIO -- Josh Shipp had a big smile on his face as he sank a variety of trick shots Friday afternoon at the Alamodome.
If only the ones a little closer to the basket were dropping for the UCLA junior guard/forward like his behind-the-back twister from half court or the back-to-back 50-footers he drilled with a simple flick of his wrist.
Shipp, the Bruins' top perimeter threat, approaches the Final Four mired in a miserable shooting slump. His return to form will be critical for the Bruins in their semifinal matchup Saturday against Memphis.
Despite being bombarded with questions about his recent struggles, Shipp's confidence was unshakable at Friday's media conferences. That assuredness comes despite hitting only 2 of 14 3-pointers (14.3 percent) in the tournament and only 19.7 percent of his 3s in the final 17 games of the season.
"It's ridiculous and just crazy," Shipp said. "I'm shooting the ball the same way I did at the start of the year. I was hitting those 3s back then and nobody was giving me advice. Now, all of sudden, you miss a few and everybody wants to tell you how to shoot. They're writing me letters ... everything is just crazy."
Streakiness has marked Shipp's shooting earlier this season. At one point, he missed 20-straight 3-pointers during a six-game period that included the Bruins' most recent loss Feb. 10 at Washington.
"It's just a slump," Shipp said. "I know I can shoot the ball -- it's just not going in for me. I'm kind of laughing at the situation. It gets kind of funny."
With that in mind, Shipp was adamant about a simplistic routine this week. There was extra shooting around his team's practices, work that has convinced him his stroke has returned, but he can't be sure until Saturday.
I always knock them down in practice. It's just been a rough time in the game. I just need to get them down in the game.
--UCLA's Josh Shipp
That's why it seemed that Shipp lingered a little bit longer outside the arc for a few extra shots Friday afternoon.
"I didn't do anything differently, it was just getting back in the gym and shooting," Shipp said. "It's felt good to get out and shoot again. I always knock them down in practice. It's just been a rough time in the game. I just need to get them down in the game.
"It's hard to explain. The shots feel good. I'm [still] shooting. Hopefully, they'll just start dropping for me."
It might be easy for many athletes to become exasperated by the line of questioning. But considering the adversity that has marked Shipp's time at UCLA, he's happy just to be playing.
His career has been put on hold recently by two surgeries, first missing most of the 2005-06 season after undergoing surgery on his right hip. Then he watched in a suit on the Bruins bench as they lost the championship game to Florida.
And three weeks after UCLA's season-ending loss to Florida in last season's Final Four, Shipp had the same surgery on his left hip. The arthroscopic procedure fixed a torn labrum and also included a removal of an area of bony undergrowth on the femoral neck.
After rehabbing on crutches for a month, he was ready to return to practice and gradually rebuild his strength.
"I've had the game taken away from me twice. It's just a blessing for me to be back and playing my role on this team," Shipp said. "I'm just having fun playing basketball."
So a little setback like a shooting slump isn't as big for him as it might be for others.
"I don't think he's struggling, but it's just his shots just aren't going in," UCLA junior forward Alfred Aboya said. "In practice he shoots well. All it will take will be for one shot to fall and the rest will follow. He hasn't lost any confidence. We still believe in him."
The Bruins have reached a Final Four ceiling that has marked their last two trips to the tournament. Michigan State was the last team to reach three consecutive Final Fours (1999-2001), with Duke (five straight from 1988-92) and Kentucky (1996-98) also accomplishing the feat since the tournament expanded to 64 teams.
Unlike those other teams, all of the previous three-time qualifiers all have won at least one national championship during their runs. Coach Ben Howland is still searching for his first, making the anxiety of winning the school's first NCAA hoop title since 1995 that much more palpable for his players.
"You definitely feel the pressure being at UCLA," Shipp said. "You go there to win national championships. Those are the only banners they hang in Pauley [Pavilion]. For us, that makes us work hard to try and win the game and try to get back there."
For them to make that next step, it wouldn't hurt for Shipp to start making some baskets -- in games rather than practices.
Tim Griffin covers college football and basketball for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.
NCAA Tournament 2008
Get caught up with all the news, notes, insights and analysis from the 2008 NCAA tournament.
Bracket• Updated Bracket | Tourney Challenge
Championship Analysis• Forde: Chalmers fulfills promise
• Wojciechowski: Self's big-bucks decision on OSU
• Katz: Memphis pays for free throws
• O'Neil: Collins makes heroics possible
• ATR: Quite a collection of talent in title game
Final Four Analysis• Experts: Who has the edge in the title game?
• Forde: Self on a wild ride, and it's just starting
• Wojciechowski: A quieter Joey Dorsey reflects
• Griffin: Rush thrives after knee injury
• O'Neil: CDR, Rose fuel Tigers' machine
• Katz: Calipari has chance for vindication
• Wojciechowski: Final Four duds
• ATR: End of the road for Love, Hansbrough?
• Forde: Good Kansas throttles UNC
• Katz: Williams takes blame for stunning UNC loss
• O'Neil: Rose leads Memphis to title game
• Wojciechowski: Power-packed Final Four
• Forde: One-and-dones hardly an academic issue
• O'Neil: Not Memphis vs. the world? Yeah, right
• Katz: KU ready for Arthur's breakout game
• Low: Don't forget about UNC's "other" guys
• Griffin: UCLA needs Shipp to shoot straight
• Forde: Williams torn between KU and UNC
• Expert picks: Who wins it all?
• Gottlieb: Rose vs. Collison matchup pivotal
• Fraschilla: Breaking down Kansas-UNC
• Glockner: Which Kansas team shows up?
• Griffin: Calipari battles for repsect
• Glockner: Memphis can win slowdown games, too
• Schlabach: Recent Final Four flameouts
• O'Neil: Collison a key point for the Bruins
• Glockner: Can UCLA's offense be more efficient?
• Katz: Lawson's injury may have helped UNC
• Glockner: Can UNC's defense hold up?
• Forde: Power prevails as Elite becomes Four
• Bilas: Tourney has "Wowed" so far
• Katz: Four unique stories shape Final Four
Video• Bill Self among KU coaching greats
• Kansas on being national champions
• Calipari: Costly mistakes down the stretch
• Chris Douglas-Roberts on Memphis' loss
• Bob Knight on Memphis' loss to KU
• Memphis gearing up to face Kansas
• Memphis, KU to meet for title
• Analysis: Kansas' win over North Carolina
• Analysis: Memphis' win over UCLA
• All the coaches talk Final Four
• Davidson's McKillop previews Final Four
• Who Are These Guys: Memphis
• Final Four Sitdown: Roy Williams
• Final Four Sitdown: Bill Self
• Final Four Sitdown: John Calipari
• Final Four Sitdown: Ben Howland
• Katz: Small window for UCLA, Memphis
• Vitale: Previews Final Four matchups
• Bilas: Likes the look of the Final Four
• Gottlieb: All No. 1 seeds reach Final Four
Audio• Bill Self on the title and Oklahoma State
• Podcast: Gottlieb on Kansas' national title
• Podcast: Gottlieb on title game X factors
• Roy Williams on Final Four return
• Podcast: Katz on Final Four coaches
• Bill Self talks Davidson game, Final Four
• Podcast: Gottlieb talks Final Four, Davidson
Photos• Championship game photo gallery
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NC State's 25th anniversary• Dinich: From star to one minute in title game
• Dinich: Kay Yow still fighting Valvano's fight
• Bob Valvano remembers brother's team
More• Rank the last 10 national champions
• Rank Chalmers' 3 vs. other big-time shots
• Vote: Memphis vs. Kansas for the title
• Vote: Which team will win it all?
• Vote: Test your Final Four team knowledge
• Tournament Challenge | Bracket Master
• Insider tourney guide | BracketCaster