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Friday, December 16, 2011
UF looks to solve free-throw woes

By Michael DiRocco
GatorNation

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The Florida basketball team wasn't able to have a regular practice time over the past week because of final exams. Sometimes it'd be in the morning, other times the evening. Some practices were longer than others.

But the one constant no matter what time the Gators worked out was an emphasis on free-throw shooting. After certain drills and at the end of practice, UF's players would line up and shoot free throws.

It's something that has to improve drastically before it costs 13th-ranked Florida a game or two -- or even worse.

Patric Young
Center Patric Young has one of the team's better free-throw averages at 53.3 percent.
"It's something we've got to get better at," UF coach Billy Donovan said as the Gators (7-2) prepared for Saturday's game against Texas A&M (8-1) in the MetroPCS Orange Bowl Classic at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Fla.. "That's probably an area of the game we've underachieved in right now because we have guys that are better shooters from the line than maybe what we've displayed at this point in time."

Florida is shooting 59.6 percent from the free-throw line, which ranks 317th out of 338 Division I schools. It's a stat that really hasn't cost the Gators yet because they have been so good in other areas: a nation-best 102 3-pointers, second nationally in 3-pointers per game (11.3), third nationally in scoring (86.8 points per game), sixth nationally in turnover ratio (plus-1.57), 10th nationally in assists per game (18.3), 22nd nationally in rebounding margin (plus-7.8), and 21st nationally in turnovers committed per game (11.7).

It's also a stat that, if holds throughout the season, would be the worst in school history. Only the 1951-52 team would be worse (61.7 percent).

Point guard Erving Walker is the only player on the roster shooting better than 67 percent. He has made 29-of -38 (76.3 percent). He has made 22 of his last 25 attempts. Guards Kenny Boynton and Bradley Beal are each shooting 66.7 percent.

"Coach has been trying to solve it this whole week," Boynton said. "After every practice we've been shooting 50, 100 free throws. We've just got to keep trying to practice and hopefully that solves it."

Donovan has tried everything. He has made the players shoot after drills with sprints at stake if they don't make a certain number. He has broken down their shots technically. He has tried positive reinforcement. He has tried to simulate game situations in practice as best he could, and Beal said some of it has worked.

"Everybody focuses in because nobody wants to run," Beal said. "It is [successful] because you get tired down the stretch [in games] and I think that's a good thing that coach is doing for us to shoot when we're tired and just try to focus in and knock them down."

As for why this team hasn't bee good at the free-throw line, all Donovan has been able to come up with is that guys like Patric Young (53.3 percent), Will Yeguete (35.3 percent) and Casey Prather (35.7 percent) need to bend their knees more when they shoot free throws.

"There's certainly guys that have to go up there with better confidence and a better focus," Donovan said. "There's nothing you can really necessarily do. If there was something that you could do as a coach every team team would shoot great from the free throw line. It's something they've got to really focus in on."

The Gators have been lucky in that it hasn't cost them a game yet. The closest was the 78-72 overtime victory over Arizona. Florida went 7-for-20 from the free-throw line in regulation but rebounded to go 8-for-12 in overtime -- including Walker's 5-for-6 performance.

Florida finished that game 13-for-32 for a season-low 46.9 percent. That is one of the seven games in which the Gators have shot free throws at or below 66.7 percent. UF's opponents have shot at or above 66.7 percent seven times.

"They want to get better at it and they're willing to work at it," Donovan said. "As our focus gets narrowed I think we'll get better there."

Michael DiRocco covers University of Florida sports for GatorNation. He can be reached at espndirocco@gmail.com or on Twitter @ESPNdirocco.