The Colorado men's basketball team lost about 46 percent of its 3-point production from last season, primarily from the graduation of George King and Dom Collier.
To fill that void, head coach Tad Boyle did something rarely seen during his nine-season tenure. He looked to the junior college ranks to find Shane Gatling.
The first three weeks of his Buffaloes career certainly have been solid for Gatling, but so far he has yet to knock down the long-range bombs at the clip expected out of him after a junior college All-American season last year at Indian Hills Community College in Iowa.
Gatling, though, might have turned a corner during Saturday's 86-80 win for the Buffs against the rival Colorado State Rams. The junior guard knocked down a pair of critical second-half 3-pointers down the stretch, and he's hoping the momentum continues when CU hosts South Dakota Tuesday night (7 p.m., Pac-12 Network).
"It felt good," Gatling said. "I was telling my teammates every day that I'm still getting comfortable. I'm still getting comfortable with the team and the style of play. But I think I'm feeling a lot more comfortable. My teammates kept finding me. My teammates kept telling me to shoot the ball, because they know I'm a good shooter. My teammates keep pushing me to do better."
Heading into Saturday's rivalry battle, Gatling had produced two double-digit scoring efforts in five games, though his shooting percentages had fallen short of expectations. Gatling had shot just .355 overall and .333 (6-for-18) on 3-pointers before coming through against the Rams.
After struggling in the first half — Gatling was 1-for-3, all on 3-pointers, with no assists and one turnover — the 6-foot-2 guard came through late for the Buffs. Gatling drilled a pair of 3-pointers in a key stretch of the second half, knocking down his first off a designed inbounds play from McKinley Wright. Gatling connected again from long range moments later, capping a 12-4 run and giving the Buffs their biggest lead of the game at 70-59 with 6 minutes, 19 seconds remaining.
CU would need every point of that advantage, as CSU stormed back and even recaptured a one-point lead before the Buffs pulled away late.
Gatling finished 4-for-10 overall and 3-for-8 on 3-pointers with a season-best 13 points, one assist and one turnover in 25-plus minutes. Through six games, Gatling is shooting .366 overall (15-for-41) and .346 on 3-pointers (9-for-26). He has displayed surprising athleticism, as evidenced by breakaway dunks in the season opener against Drake and again Saturday against CSU, and though he so far hasn't collected a wealth of assists or turnovers, Gatling nonetheless has recorded twice as many assists (6) as turnovers (3) while averaging about 22.5 minutes per game.
While Gatling still hasn't connected from long range at the pace that led to a 39 percent 3-point mark at Indian Hills and a program-tying 102 made 3-pointers, Boyle is confident Gatling is getting closer to becoming that player for the Buffs.
"You saw flashes of Shane," Boyle said. "As long as he's got his feet set and it's a good look, we want Shane shooting. Our players want Shane shooting. He has to trust that if I don't shoot it this time, and I get it moved, I'm going to get it back. If you're open, you shoot it. But if you're not, just keep it moving and take great shots.
"Like a freshman, he's adjusting to this level. He's not played at this level of basketball yet. So he's going through a growth and maturation process. We expect more of him because he's older ... but the growth that he's shown, we've got to continue."