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November 18, 2008

Zeller on target for big season

It's easy to miss the amendments in Luke Zeller's three-point shot.

It's about more than moving one foot in reverse to fit college basketball's expanded arc.

After a summer tuning his long range game, sometimes getting off 800 attempts per day, Zeller's form features a subtle shift that may pay a dramatic dividend for Notre Dame this season. Instead of using the senior as a last resort from distance, Zeller may find himself higher up the food chain.

In Notre Dame's 94-58 rout of USC Upstate on Sunday night at the Joyce Center, the 6-foot-11, 245-pound senior connected on 4-of-6 three-point shots and finished with a career high 18 points in just 19 minutes. Instead of taking a three simply because he was open, Zeller had the look of a player shooting because he knew he'd make it.

"I think every shot he gets off is going in right now, that's how he's played in practice," said head coach Mike Brey. "I'm shocked when he misses."

Zeller connected on barely 30 percent of his three-pointers during Big East play last season, making 16-of-52 attempts. If his opening act is any indication, he'll more than double that production this season.

As much as practice has helped push Zeller closer to perfect, confidence may be the biggest bump in his game even if he won't admit it. The former McDonald's All-American no longer looks over his shoulder for a quick hook.

The Irish lost just one starter from last season in Rob Kurz, but that opening fits Zeller perfectly. When Brey met with Zeller after last season he predicted a strong senior year in the brief sitdown. There was no need for over-analysis, a sporting crime of which Zeller has been guilty during his career.

"Sometimes he second guesses himself before he shoots it, he thinks about it and it throws him off," said point guard Tory Jackson. "Don't think, just shoot it."

That showed in the final seconds of the first half last weekend when Zeller took a Jackson pass and drained a three-pointer as time expired. Instead of the Spartans entering the locker room within shouting distance they went in down 44-33. The Irish opened the second half on a 15-2 run to blow the game open.

Zeller claims there's no secret to his potential success.

"It's just a lot of hard work," Zeller said. "There's not really any mental part to it, it's just a lot of hard work, a lot of repetitions. I'd like to be able to shoot 1,000 if I can, it just depends on how much time I've got and how I'm feeling.

"I just go in, knock it down. I just do my job."

But there's no doubt Zeller appears more qualified for that work. He admits there's a change in his three-point technique, even if he can't fully explain it.

"It's not something you really notice overnight, but over the course of time it definitely feels comfortable," he said. "(The coaches) see the same thing. I guess you're noticing, I guess that counts."



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