Solomon Hill had the ball on the wing, his feet planted behind the 3-point arc. His defender backed away.
Hill heard the voice inside his head:
Don’t shoot it, don’t shoot it … well, OK, maybe I should shoot it. You know, I’m open. Shouldn’t I take an open 3? Yeah. Of course, I should. That’s it. OK, I’m shooting this thing. Ready? I’m really going to shoot this. Yep. Here goes …
That could have been a scenario anytime from Hill’s first two-and-a-half seasons with the Arizona Wildcats. Opponents dared him to shoot. He was neither a good nor confident 3-point shooter, and, for Hill, one has a lot to do with the other.
And then a year ago, right around this time of the season, practice habits finally intersected with success, which bred confidence, and, seemingly almost overnight, Hill became a shooting star.
Here’s the proof:
Before Jan. 14, 2012: Hill was 31 of 106 from 3-point range (29.2 percent)
Since then: 56 of 120 (46.7 percent).
“It’s mental,” said the 6-6 senior forward.
“Once I stopped thinking about it and started shooting it because I knew I could make it, that’s when it started going in. I think I used to second-guess myself, with just the way they played defense on me, backing off.
“I would take the shot just because I was open, not because I was thinking I was going to make the shot. Now, it’s like, ‘If you leave me open, I’m going to make the shot.’”
Hill leads the seventh-ranked Wildcats in 3-point shooting this season, hitting 44.6 percent, as they head off to Saturday’s rivalry game at Arizona State (12:30 p.m., Fox Sports Net). While Nick Johnson was Arizona’s non-conference MVP, Hill has established himself, as expected, as the team’s best, most consistent, most versatile player through four conference games.
Hill is averaging 16.5 points, a team-high 6.5 rebounds and has made 12 of 18 3-points in conference play this season.
“The start that he had through four conference games has really offset some poor shooting by some of our other key shooters,” said Arizona coach Sean Miller.
Hill made four 3-pointers as a freshman, 17 as a sophomore, 37 in his junior year and is on pace for about 60.
“First of all, he deserves the credit because that doesn’t happen unless the player invests a ton of time,” Miller said. “Not only during the season, but, most of the time, outside of the season, which he has done. He deserves a ton of credit.
“Same thing if you look at his body,” Miller added. “As a freshman, we were constantly on him to lose weight in a productive way — less body fat. That wasn’t easy for him because he has a strong body. But he’s done it.
“If you look at physically how he is right now … he runs better, he jumps better, he’s more active than he has ever been. That might be even more hard to do than become a good shooter.”
Hill will have to be at his best against Arizona State senior Carrick Felix, one of the most improved players in the conference on both ends of the court.
“Right now, I don’t know if there’s a guy that’s playing better defense anywhere,” ASU coach Herb Sendek said in his weekly news conference Wednesday. “He was a good defender (last season). He’s even a better defender now.”
Hill is coming off a game in which he made five 3-pointers in a win at Oregon State.
The “no, no, no” inside his head has changed to “go, go, go” when he gets a good look from 3-point range, even if defenders no longer willingly give him the space to launch.
Here is one more stat: Hill is shooting a Steve Kerr-esque 53.7 percent from behind the arc in his past 21 conference games, including the 2012 Pac-12 tournament.
“I have been an admirer of Solomon Hill,” Sendek said.
“I thought even before this, his senior year, he was one of the best players in our conference, and he hasn’t skipped a beat. I just think he is versatile and tough. He is a really hard matchup. I don’t think it is a stretch to say he is undeniably one of the best players in college basketball.”