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Wednesday, December 11, 2002
High-scoring Division III Grinnell all about points

Associated Press

DES MOINES, Iowa -- Basketball at Grinnell College is all about numbers. Big numbers. Numbers so big they look as though they're typos.

Grinnell has launched 83 three-point shots in a game this season and has made as many as 31. The Pioneers scored 160 points in their opener and rang up 152 on Monday night, when they shot 114 times.

The Pioneers average 136 points per game, better even than last season, when they set an NCAA all-division record of 124.9. Grinnell allows an average of 121 points, but so what? To get something, you've got to give something up.

"Our game plan is try to win by one," said Grinnell coach David Arseneault, the architect of this freewheeling system at the NCAA Division III school 50 miles east of Des Moines.

"If we lose and it's 133-132 instead of 57-56, it's a lot more fun to watch."

Wednesday night, Arseneault will find out how his system works against a Division I program when the Pioneers play at Drake, a major step up for a team used to playing Lake Forest, Beloit and Ripon.

"I hope it's a good experience," he said. "You're always a little concerned, especially the way we play because if you're not shooting well, you can look pretty foolish.

"But I know our kids are pumped to play against superior athletes in a nice setting."

It will be a new experience for Drake, too. Drake is averaging 49 shots a game. Grinnell averages 68 -- from 3-point range.

"It won't be anything Drake has ever seen before," said Northwestern College coach Kris Korver, whose team handed Grinnell its only loss, 129-118.

Drake scheduled Grinnell because if it was going to play a non-Division I team, coach Kurt Kanaskie wanted it to be an Iowa school.

"With the highest-scoring team in any division, we thought it would be exciting for our fans," Kanaskie said. "It looked a lot better in May than it does now."

Grinnell's style is similar to what Paul Westhead used to gain national attention at Loyola Marymount. Arseneault, who began running the system in 1992, has added his own wrinkles along the way, including a hockey-style substitution system.

When Arseneault sends in subs, he does so in waves of three or four at a time, often as early as the first 35 seconds. At least 17 players have appeared in every game, and no one has played more than 21 minutes.

"There's really no way to prepare for our system other than to play it," junior guard Steve Wood said. ``You can't really simulate that in practice."

The players make the most of their minutes. Wood played 18 minutes against Lake Forest on Saturday night and scored 35 points, including seven 3-pointers. Ken Heiser scored 31 points in just 13 minutes in Monday night's 152-117 victory over William Penn.

Fresh legs are essential because the Pioneers' press full-court every second.

Grinnell gives up easy baskets when teams beat the press, but all that means is the Pioneers get the ball back that much sooner to put up another 3. The idea is to get significantly more shots than the opponent through turnovers and offensive rebounds.

When a shot is taken, everyone but the shooter goes to the boards. If a Grinnell player gets the rebound he doesn't go for the putback, he fires the ball back to the shooter on the 3-point line.

"The best case scenario is to get the same shooter the same shot," Wood said. "Coach says if you get a good shooter a second shot within 10 seconds, he's going to make it."

As helter-skelter as it might sound, the system has a plan with well-defined goals: take 100 shots, one every 24 seconds, make half the shots 3-point attempts, force 32 turnovers, rebound one-third of the misses and shoot 30 times more than the opponent.

Grinnell is 42-4 when meeting all its goals.

Kanaskie figures he has no choice but to go along with the rapid-fire pace. Opponents have tried to slow it down, but Arseneault says they eventually get caught up in the frenzy.

"A lot of coaches have come back at me and said, 'We're going to do the things you do to score, but we're not giving up as many points,'" Arseneault said. "I just say, 'See you in the Hall of Fame.'"