Practice pays for UMBC's Pender


Matea Pender's basketball life has been more about endless hours of shooting the ball on the Croatian streets than about any highlights film.

Call it the European style.

It sure is playing well around UMBC these days, as Pender has climbed to second place in the nation among Division I schools in three-point shooting percentage (.639), hitting 23 of 36 shots.

Only the University of California's Kristin Iwanaga is leading Pender with a .760 percentage (19-for-25). Sure, it's early in the season and the America East competition hasn't been tested yet, but most basketball players are thrilled when they can hit 50 percent from beyond the arc. Pender is also second in the country in three-point field goals made per game (3.3).

"When I was a kid, I was just like the kind of kid that would go out on the street anywhere and shoot baskets. All the time I was shooting, shooting, shooting," said Pender who comes from Sibenik, Croatia. "In Croatia I had good coaches working with me on the shot. Actually that's been a focus all my life, playing basketball and my shot. In Europe, we focus more on shooting than just dunking the ball."

UMBC coach Phil Stern said: "Matea is just kind of your prototypical standstill shooter who shoots the ball the same way every time and is very consistent. She grew up shooting the basketball. Her game is perimeter-oriented, which is why she fits into our system so well."

Well enough to lead the America East Conference in scoring at 18.1 points per game with an overall field goal shooting percentage of .582.

Pender's shooting has carried the Retrievers to a 5-2 record, with the five wins being recorded the earliest in the school's 19-year women's basketball history.

"If she's open, she's going to knock it down," Stern said. "Our kids are doing a great job of getting her the ball and she's shooting with tremendous confidence. She has the green light to let it fly, but another part of that is she's getting a lot of open looks because she can post up and drive with the basketball."

Stern said his spread offense, which features a lot of backdoor cuts, makes it difficult for teams to concentrate on stopping Pender.

"The way we play, everything is so spread out, it's easy to lose focus," Stern said. "She's been doing a nice job of knocking down shots when she gets them, but she's also passing the ball and doing a lot of other things."

As well as Pender is shooting from three-point range, she still has a game plan for an off-night.

"It's going to definitely come, and I'm going to have to do some other things," she said. "I'm going to have to post up some people who are smaller than I am. I'm going to have to drive instead of just relying on my shot."

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