The results don’t show it, but Florida coach Mike White said he is blending in as much free-throw shooting in practice as he has in his five years as a head coach.
“I’ve said it for the last couple of months and I stand by it. I can’t imagine there’s a team that shoots more fatigued free throws in practice, in between live segments, in the country,” White said. “Maybe there are teams that do it. I’m doing way more free-throw shooting in the middle of practice than I’ve ever done. Way more.”
Still, the free-throw line remains a glaring problem. Florida went just 4 of 12 from the line in a 71-68 loss at No. 15 Texas A&M on Tuesday night. Four more free throws made would have given White his first signature win at UF. Three more made free throws would have forced overtime.
The problems appear to be as much mental as physical. Last season, Florida finished last in the SEC in free-throw shooting at 63.5 percent. This season? You guessed it. Florida is still last in the league in free-throw shooting, even worse at 60.6 percent.
White said he’s employed an “80 percent” drill in practice in which after a segment in which the Gators are getting up and down the floor and breathing heavy, he’ll put all of his players on the line and set a goal of making 80 percent from the free-throw line.
“We haven’t had one time, I’m guessing, in the last two to three weeks, where we haven’t made it,” White said. “We’ve shot it over 80 percent in every one of those segments. Where early on in the year we rarely made it. So we’re shooting better in practice. You’re just hoping that you have that carry over to games.”
White said a lot of what he’s done to try to improve UF’s free-throw shooting in practice is trial and error.
“I’ve tried not to make it too mental,” White said. “I don’t know if we can shoot them much worse than we’re shooting them right now. I may just get to the point where when a guy gets to the foul line I may start screaming at him, you better make this free throw or you’re coming out of the game. Maybe that will work. I’m not sure. It’s worth trying. ”
Florida center John Egbunu admitted it’s frustrating to put the work in at the free-throw line in practice and not get rewarded.
“It is tough,” said Egbunu, who is shooting 56.7 percent from the line this season. “We do get up a lot of free throws in practice. We just got to step up and step up with confidence and knock them down at the free throw line.”
— White said he doesn’t regret playing junior point Kasey Hill down the stretch against Texas A&M, even though Hill missed a pair of free throws and put up a questionable shot while dribbling into trouble in the final three minutes. White noted that Hill did have six rebounds and a tip in on a transition basket off a Chris Chiozza basket that cut Texas A&M’s lead to 67-63. With shooting guard KeVaughn Allen in foul trouble, Hill was pressed into 25 minutes of duty against Texas A&M, after playing just 16 minutes against LSU. “Kasey continues to work,” White said. “He’s one of our most experienced guys and at some point you got to think the work is going to pay off for the kid. He’s struggling in shooting percentages, but also the other day at A&M gets six big rebounds for a little guy. You know, he’s using his speed and quickness. He’s getting hands on basketball. He’s creating havoc defensively. So I’m really pleased with his effort, how hard he’s playing. And you just got to have faith at some point these percentages, not only with him but some other guys, will increase. We need to. We need for them to increase for us to get over this hump offensively.”
— White said he met with redshirt freshman guard Brandone Francis-Ramirez last week to address his shooting struggles. Francis-Ramirez snapped a string of 19 straight misses from 3-point range with a banked-in 3-pointer in the first half Tuesday night against Texas A&M. For the season, Francis-Ramirez is shooting 17.1 percent from the field (12-70) and 13.2 percent from 3-point range (5-38). This, from a player who beat out all-time UF 3-point king Lee Humphrey in a 3-point shooting contest last September at Gator Madness. “Early on in the season in practice, he really shot it well,” White said. “He hasn’t matched that since. He’s just going through that freshman funk. He’s struggled at times defensively in games, just with scouting report stuff, like all of our other inexperienced guys. Unfortunately, if you’re not stepping up and making shots to overcome some of those things and you have a couple of guys who are playing better than you, it’s tough to get back into the rotation. To his credit, he continues to work … Last few practices he’s brought it. I expect him to bring it this year. Just be prepared for if and when his number’s called.”