Uconn men's basketball continues to struggle with free throws

Published on Tuesday, 19 January 2021 13:18


STORRS - Forget the hot sauce, maybe these Huskies don’t have the stomach for free throws.

The UConn men’s basketball team has won seven times in nine tries this season. But its two losses have something in common: painful missed opportunities at the foul line.

Against Creighton back on Dec. 20, it was UConn point guard R.J. Cole missing a pair of free throws in the waning seconds that gave the visiting Blue Jays a chance to get to overtime, where they pulled out a 76-74 victory.

On Monday it was UConn forward Tyrese Martin who missed two from the line in the final seconds - one make would have tied the game, two would have given his team the lead - in what turned into a 74-70 loss to St. John’s.

“As a coach you’re pretty helpless on that one,” UConn coach Dan Hurley said regarding his team’s free throw struggles. “A lot of that is routine and having the stomach to make them.”

There have been stomach issues aplenty in UConn nation the last few weeks.

The UConn fan base, not to mention Hurley, many other UConn coaches, alumni and the school’s athletic director, have over the past few weeks helped raise money for the Husky Ticket Project, a non-profit organization that distributes tickets for UConn games to youth organizations in Connecticut, by doing shots of hot sauce and posting the videos of them doing so on social media.

Monday against the Johnnies, the Tabasco just wasn’t flowing properly through some veins.

It wasn’t just Martin, of course. UConn went 15-of-23 from the line as a team. Cole himself had a pair of 1-for-2 trips down the stretch.

“I missed two free throws, too. I split my 1-and-1’s,” Cole said.

If all of Cole’s and all of Martin’s freebies go down, undoubtedly a different outcome would have resulted.

“When we should have been able to close that game out, we were 1-for-2, 1-for-2, 1-for-2, 0-for-2,” Hurley said.

Hurley, not sporting his new “Captain Brutality” T-shirt, was nonetheless feeling the pain immediately after the defeat.

“Brutal loss,” Hurley said. “They were tougher than us, especially down the stretch. … And we obviously shot ourselves in the foot quite a bit there.”

Let’s be clear. Missed free throws are not what is keeping a good UConn team from being a great UConn team.

The absence of star guard James Bouknight is in large part doing that. Bouknight will be out for perhaps three more weeks and the Huskies will have to try and survive and advance without him.

Making free throws will go a long way to help those efforts.

And in some ways, no practice will change their performance. Yes, teams can shoot free throws for hours upon hours, but at some level it’s an intestinal fortitude issue that doesn’t change with repetitive motion exercises.

“That’s an individual thing. That’s a routine. That’s having the nerves and the confidence to step up and make them,” Hurley said. “It’s wanting to be there.”

St. John’s, which has played well at times this season but who really didn’t have much to show for it, appeared on Monday that it wanted to be here.

And head coach Mike Anderson, a Nolan Richardson protégé who has adopted his mentor’s defensive strategy of “40 minutes of hell,” was extremely pleased with his players’ collective stomachs on this occasion.

“I thought we left our guts out on the floor today,” Anderson said.

And some of that had to do with making free throws.

“They (UConn) had guys go to the line and miss a few free throws. We had guys go to the line and make a couple free throws,” Anderson said.

Some part of free throw shooting is contagious. A player makes a few and it emboldens the next team member who steps to the line. Confidence is just as contagious as other things currently going around.

UConn, which hangs its hat on defense, also had some defensive lapses that appeared infectious.

“Our inability to guard the ball,” Hurley said. “Posh Alexander just destroyed us off the dribble.”

Maybe if the Huskies dribble a little more Cholula down their chins, it will help their nerves at the line.

Posted in The Bristol Press, UConn on Tuesday, 19 January 2021 13:18. Updated: Tuesday, 19 January 2021 13:21.