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SHOOTING MOST FOUL
Bounce, bounce, bounce...thud. That has been the routine at foul lines across the country this season. The Division I free-throw-shooting percentage has declined in each of the past five years, and this season players arc connecting on only 66.8% of their foul shots, the lowest since 1957-58. There's no way to quantify just how far off the mark the players have been, but doesn't it seem that more and more of the misses are bricks?
Some of the nation's best teams have had episodes of horrid foul shooting. Indiana might still be undefeated if it had shot a tad better than four of 13 in a 74-69 loss to Kansas and 18 for 36 in an 81-78 loss to Kentucky. Even usually reliable Duke missed 11 straight against Oklahoma. And on it goes.
It has gotten so bad that Idaho coach Larry Eustachy has installed several plays that begin with his team rebounding its own missed foul shot. "We might as well try and rebound missed free throws, because we get plenty of them," says Eustachy, whose Vandals were shooting 60.8% from the line at week's end.
Why can't any of these guys shoot straight anymore? Everyone has an idea, which is another way of saying no one really knows. Here are a few theories:
?Lack of practice. The most commonly held belief is that players just don't practice free throw shooting enough. "I wonder if players are more interested in developing a finger roll than a shooting touch," says LSU coach Dale Brown. Says Manchester ( Ind.) College coach Steve Afford, who was an 89.8% foul shooter during his career at Indiana, "When players practice today, everyone wants to either dunk or shoot a three-pointer."
?Emphasis on athleticism. "We always go for the athletes rather than for shooters nowadays," says Virginia Commonwealth coach Sonny Smith. "We'll take an athlete even if he can't throw it in the ocean from the beach."
?The NCAA's two-year-old rule limiting practice time to 20 hours a week. Coaches love to cite this one, but of course, coaches tend to believe restrictions on practice time are responsible for the national debt. Oklahoma coach Billy Tubbs might have a point, though, when he says, "How do you expect to see a better product when you take away practice time?"
Louisville's players (64.6% from the line) work with a sports psychologist who urges them to visualize being good free throw shooters for 10 minutes a day (which presumably doesn't count against the 20 hours a week). A better solution might be to have players who are shooting less than 70% try 100 free throws a day.