Free throws have been anything but this season for the UCLA men’s basketball team.
In fact, they’ve been quite costly.
The Bruins rank dead last in the Pac-10 in free-throw shooting percentage at a .613 clip, after hitting .724 percent last season.
The foul struggles have left the players confused and the coaches frustrated, as even extensive work in practice – as much as 200 free throws in a day for some players – has not translated to the games.
“I don’t have an answer for that, that’s not an easy answer,” senior forward James Keefe said. “We work on it a lot in practice. I don’t think we have bad shooters on this team. A lot of the guys that are missing, I’m confident when they go up to the line. I don’t know what it is – I think it’s just something that will come around.”
It won’t get easier in Oregon’s notoriously loud McArthur Court.
Keefe and senior guard Michael Roll recall the backboard rumbling in 2005-06, when the undefeated and top-ranked Bruins traveled to Eugene and lost 68-66 to end a 14-game winning streak.
“I know what it’s like – it’s very hostile,” Roll said. “The rim, the backboard were shaking. We’re just going to jump out hopefully early, so the crowd isn’t after us.”
With just three road games so far – UCLA’s other 16 have either been at Pauley Pavilion or on a neutral court in Southern California – the crowd isn’t to blame, however.
Unfortunately for Howland, he isn’t quite sure what is.
“I tell you it’s not through lack of trying,” Howland said. “We had a couple guys who had to hit 200 yesterday. (Sophomore guard) Malcolm Lee made 45 foul shots in a row. We spent a lot of time free-throw shooting yesterday. We’ll spend a lot of time working for it.”
The problem hasn’t cost the Bruins in their last two games, both wins, over Washington and Washington State.
But, Howland said, it all adds up.
“The percentage is what’s the key,” Howland said. “Those free throws you miss in the first half are just as important as the ones with five minutes to go. Front ends of one-and-ones hurt you. Some of that also is we’re not playing a lot of guys and there’s more of a fatigue factor.”