Free Throws Not a Problem for Iowa

Dec. 23, 2011

Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.

IOWA CITY, Iowa — It sounds like a simple concept. One shot from 15-feet and no one between you and the basket. But free throw shooting is an art form that some teams simply can’t master. That’s not the case with a Lisa Bluder-coached women’s basketball team.

While on the Iowa sidelines, Bluder has turned the Hawkeyes into one of the best free throw shooting teams in the country, year after year. Iowa has ranked in the top 15 in nation in five of the last six seasons, including four years inside the top 10.

The 2011-12 campaign is no different. In fact, this year’s team might be the best free throw shooting team Iowa has ever had. Entering the final week of nonconference play, Iowa ranked second out of 336 teams in Division I women’s basketball in free throw percentage at 81.4 percent (180-of-221). That ranking has a chance to move up to the top spot in the NCAA after the Hawkeyes went 36-of-40 in their final two nonconference games.

When it comes to draining the freebies, Bluder and her players say it is all about confidence, repetition and mental toughness.

“We hit on free throw shooting every day in practice,” Bluder said. “We talk to the players about wanting to get to the free throw line often and how good we are at the line.”

“You have to think of it as an opportunity to score an easy point. It’s not a pressure shot. You don’t want to think about missing. You just remember all the times you have made them before.”
UI junior Jaime Printy

When talking about the top free throw shooters in Iowa women’s basketball history, junior Jaime Printy has to be near the top of the list. In 78 career games, Printy has shot 297 free throws and only missed 35. She owns a career 88.2 percentage from the free throw line.

Printy has gone on two different impressive streaks of making 30-plus free throws in a row. She made 32-straight as a sophomore, one shy of Iowa’s record for consecutive free throws made (33 by Lindsey Meder). Printy converted 30-straight free throws from Nov. 13 to Nov. 26 this season.

The thought of scoring uncontested points is what drives Printy at the line.

“You have to think of it as an opportunity to score an easy point,” Printy said. “It’s not a pressure shot. You don’t want to think about missing. You just remember all the times you have made them before.”

Even though shooting seems to come natural to Printy, she works hard every day on trying to perfect her form from the free throw line.

“In high school, I shot at least 100 free throws a day,” Printy said. “During the summer, I probably shoot even more than that. Consistency is a big help when it comes to free throw shooting.”

Shooting guards are expected to be good free throw shooters, but post players don’t have the same stereotype. One look at Shaquille O’Neal’s free throw form can help fuel the fire on that argument.

Iowa center Morgan Johnson is the exception. The 6-foot-5 post player owns the second-best free throw percentage on the team at 82.5 percent and has the second-most most free throw attempts (63) of any Hawkeye this season.

Johnson struggled her first year from the charity stripe, finishing with a 63.2 percentage. That number increased to 72.9 as a sophomore and another summer of hard work has made her one of the best free throw shooting post players in the nation.

A quick glance at the NCAA statistics shows that Johnson’s free throw percentage is the second-best for any player listed as a true center.

“I haven’t always been a good free throw shooter,” Johnson said. “After last season, the coaches told me that was an aspect of my game that needed to improve. I took the time this summer to work on it.”

It was a minor mental change, after analyzing the rest of her game, that helped Johnson the most at the line.

“The biggest help was realizing that I was a good shooter from that range during normal game action,” Johnson said. “So, I took that mental approach over the summer.”

Is free throw shooting a gift, or can it be taught? Bluder believes it’s a little of both.

“Fortunately, we’ve been able to recruit good free throw shooters,” Bluder said. “We try to put pressure on our players during drills, and we want them to take pride on their free throws on a daily basis. It comes down to good shooting fundamentals, but focus and confidence go a long way.”

Bluder’s Hawkeyes have seemed to embrace the charity stripe art form. Players can over analyze everything from their pre-shot routine to their follow through at the stripe. For Printy, that’s too much to think about.

“If you put in the time and are confident on the line, chances are it’s going in,” Printy said.

Sounds like a simple concept.