Despite potent offense, Gators struggle mightily at the line

Published: Friday, December 16, 2011 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, December 15, 2011 at 9:49 p.m.

Let's see here. A basketball team can score and shoot 3-pointers with the best in the land, but can't make a free throw.

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Florida's Erving Walker has gone 29 of 38 from the the free-throw line this season.

Doug Finger/ Staff photographer/ File



No. 13 Florida vs. No. 22 Texas A&M at Sunrise, 2:30 p.m.
TV: Sun
Radio: WRUF

Confused? Perplexed?

Imagine the frustration Florida's Billy Donovan has endured as he tries to coach a squad that can score from just about anywhere on the hardwood except from the free-throw line.

The No. 13 Gators rank third nationally in scoring offense (86.8 ppg) and second in 3-pointers per game (11.3), but have labored from the line at 59.6 percent, 317th among the 338 Division I men's basketball teams.

“I think it's something we've got to get better at,” Donovan said Thursday. “It's something we've spent time on and it's an area of the game we've underachieved in right now just because we've got guys who are better shooters than what they've displayed to this point in time.”

For the record, Florida (7-2) has made 121 of 203 free-throw attempts; meanwhile, UF foes have connected on 73.5 percent (133 of 181) of their free tosses.

Even though Florida is on the cusp of placing five players in double figures, only one Gator — Erving Walker (76.3/29-38) — shoots better than 70 percent from the free-throw line, which gives opponents plenty of options on who to foul in late-game situations.

Poor free-throw shooting hasn't hurt Florida — at least not yet. The Gators, who will face No. 22 Texas A&M on Saturday in Sunrise, combined for 62.5 percent marksmanship in losses to Ohio State (81-74) and Syracuse (72-68), but they were dangerously close to losing to Arizona (78-72, OT) after a 15-for-32 effort from the foul line at the O'Connell Center.

“We were fortunate that (our) 22 offensive rebounds were able to offset that,” Donovan said. “With the way we shot the ball and the way we shot the ball from the free-throw line, it could have been very difficult to win that game. Because of Patric (Young's) game and the offensive rebounding, we were able to overcome that. But 15-for-32 from the line is a struggle.”

Although Walker is the only Gator who has shot freebies well, much of the problem can be traced to UF's frontcourt of Will Yeguete and Young, who have combined to convert 22 of 47 (46.8 percent). Young is 16 of 30, Yeguete 6 of 17.

The problem is not lack of practice. Pressure free throws are a staple of almost every workout.

“Coach (Donovan) has been trying to solve it all week,” junior guard Kenny Boynton said. “We've been shooting fifty, a hundred free throws after practice. We've just got keep practicing at it. Hopefully, that solves the problem.”

With three weeks left before Southeastern Conference play begins, Florida has ample time to fix its free throw woes.

“Guys have to go up there with more focus and better confidence,” Donovan said. “I think you can work on it. There's nothing (special) you can really do. If there were something you could do as a coach, then every team would shoot great from the free-throw line. It's something (the players) have to focus on and recognize the importance of — and they do. They want to get better at it, and I think they're willing to work at it. As our focus narrows, I think they'll get better.”

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