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Learning to Cope With Hits, Misses : Mettinger Settles Into Role as Canyons' Appointed Scorer

February 18, 1988|RALPH NICHOLS | Times Staff Writer

Shooters want to shoot. And the best ones feel they must have the ball when the game is on the line.

But for Butch Mettinger, College of the Canyons' designated point-producer, it has not always been that way.

Given a choice in the past, Mettinger would have passed at a chance to win a game with a last-second shot.

This season, he has not had a choice. Like it or not, he is the Cougars' Mr. Clutch.

"If we're going to take a long-range shot, Butch is the man to do it," Canyons Coach Lee Smelser said. "Earlier in the year, he was taking it personally if he missed a shot. It really bothered Butch. But I told him that if he didn't miss shots, he wouldn't be playing at our school."

Canyons went to Mettinger with the game on the line against Santa Monica two weeks ago. Despite scoring 30 points, he missed a three-point shot in the closing minute and Canyons lost, 104-100.

Missing a clutch basket would have bothered Mettinger for weeks as a freshman. As a sophomore, however, he has learned to live with the missed shots.

Mettinger, a 6-foot, 6-inch forward, has spent as much time working on his confidence as his jump shot in his two seasons at Canyons. He was an All-Golden League selection for two years at Canyon High, but Mettinger needed a season of college ball to become self-confident.

"The coach brought me along smoothly as a freshman," Mettinger said. "Academically, I wasn't ready for a four-year school coming out of high school."

Mettinger, 19, who averaged 10 minutes a game last season, has worked diligently on his own to improve both his confidence and shooting. He takes as many as 60 free throws and 250 shots a day before practice to hone his skills.

The extra work paid off. Mettinger has converted 242 of 542 (44.6%) field goals and 32 of 73 three-point shots (43.8%). He leads Canyons in scoring with an average of 20.3 points a game and the Cougars (18-12, 8-4 in the Western State Conference) appear headed for a berth in the Southern California regional playoffs.

How far the Cougars advance will depend largely on Mettinger playing consistently well.

He has had his ups and downs.

Mettinger has been held to less than 15 points several games this season. He was held to 13 against Moorpark College last week.

A couple of the highs: A season-best 41 points in a December game against Valley and 37 points in a 92-89 upset of defending state champion Ventura in a pivotal WSC game Feb. 4.

Mettinger said he knew after taking only one shot against Ventura that it was his night.

"I can shoot from anywhere when I'm hot," he said. "I know I've got it together when I'm taking good shots, making them and I'm not forcing anything. Since the coach has given me the role of a scorer, I know I have to come through."

Smelser has learned to recognize when Mettinger has a hot hand.

"When you see that glint in his eye, you just want to get the ball to him because he's got it going," Smelser said.

But when Mettinger's shot isn't falling, sometimes his confidence does.

"If my confidence gets down, I'm too worried about missing the shot," Mettinger said. "There are games that I shoot OK, but I don't go after the ball. I just don't want it. There have been times this season when the coach has gotten down on me for not shooting."

Said Smelser: "He's a streak shooter. Butch will miss five in a row and then make five in a row."

Fortunately for Canyons, there are those who can take up the slack. Del Linzy, a 6-4 sophomore forward, and Rusty Morse, a 6-6 freshman guard, both average in double figures.

But the key player is Mettinger, to whom Smelser gives much of the credit for Canyons resurgence after a 6-7 WSC record last season.

"He had some great games as a freshman, and some other games we couldn't find him," Smelser said. "We just knew this year that he was going to be an outstanding shooter."

Smelser has had no trouble finding Mettinger this season. He usually is listed among the WSC scoring leaders.

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