Right on Line

Feb. 9, 2011

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Winning men’s basketball games in the Big Ten Conference is far from easy, but as the University of Iowa has shown in its last two outings, the odds are greater when your free throws are falling.

Before the Hawkeyes hosted Michigan State (Feb. 2) and played at Indiana (Feb. 5), they converted 65.8 percent of their 424 free throw attempts. Opponents were shooting 75 percent.

“When you make free throws, it helps you extend a lead and helps keep a run from getting away from you,” UI head coach Fran McCaffery said. “We have been getting into the bonus at the end of the game and that’s what you want to do. You have to make your free throws.”

Iowa made 9 of 11 from the line during a 72-52 win against Michigan State with Matt Gatens making all five of his attempts. The Hawkeyes were 20 of 25 against Indiana during a 64-63 win with Melsahn Basabe sinking 8 of 9. For the season, Iowa has now made 308 of 460 free throws (67 percent).

“Free throw shooting is key and free throws are always important,” said Basabe, who is shooting 82.4 percent from the line in Big Ten play. “At the beginning of the year it was just getting my rhythm back, but ever since conference play began, I’ve been knocking them down.”

The Hawkeyes are 10th in the Big Ten in team free throw percentage even though Gatens is the league’s most proficient from the line at 90.5 percent.

“It’s huge to get to the line and take advantage of that,” said Gatens, who made seven free throws during the two-game winning streak. “Guys are realizing the value of each point and each possession. The other night, one point decided the game.”

Free throw shooting isn’t the only area where the Hawkeyes excelled against Michigan State and Indiana. They scored 68 points in the paint and had nine blocked shots during those wins. But making 29 free throws and shooting at an 80.6 clip didn’t hurt their chances, either.

Iowa picked a good time to get hot from the charity stripe; up next is a No. 13 Wisconsin team that seldom misses from 15 feet away. The Badgers are successful 82.8 percent of the time from the line to lead the league.

“They don’t miss,” McCaffery said of Wisconsin. “That’s why they are where they are.”

Iowa (10-13 overall, 3-8 Big Ten Conference) hosts Wisconsin (17-5, 7-3) tonight at 7:36 from Mediacom Court inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The Hawkeyes are searching for their third consecutive victory and their second in a row against the Badgers in Iowa City (Iowa won 73-69 in overtime on Jan. 21, 2009).

“It would be great for us to continue to play well and to beat a team that on a national level has already proven where they are,” McCaffery said. “There’s always a great opportunity for everybody to make a move and we are making a move.”

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