Hawkeyes find themselves in a surprising free-throw funk

Chad Leistikow

After starting the season at 85.3 percent from the line, Gabe Olaseni has gone 0-for-2, 4-for-6, 0-for-0, 5-for-9 and 4-for-6 in Iowa’s last five games.

IOWA CITY, Ia. – A slightly alarming trend is emerging on the Iowa men's basketball team. To fix it requires … well, it's difficult to pinpoint the appropriate remedy.

When free throws aren't falling, it can spread throughout a team. Such an odd phenomenon, considering it's the same, uncontested 15-foot shot that every Division I player has practiced tens of thousands of times.

"Free throws are mental," the Hawkeyes' career leader in free throws, Aaron White, said. "You've just got to get in your routine and step up and knock 'em down."

It sounds easy, but if free throws can be mental, it becomes harder to coach than X's and O's.

Checking out the numbers of late show that Iowa, collectively, needs digging out of a free-throw funk.

After a 26-of-28 performance against North Florida ended nonconference play, Iowa's team percentage was at 77.5 — third in the country. But during eight Big Ten games, Iowa is shooting 69.5 percent — eighth in the conference.

The numbers are worse during Iowa's current three-game losing streak. The Hawkeyes (13-8, 4-4) are shooting 60.7 percent from the free-throw line in those losses.

Nine missed free throws were especially costly in the 67-63 heartbreaker at Purdue.

"I feel like it's very uncharacteristic," Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said, "especially with a couple guys that are typically very, very good."

Those guys are senior big men White and Gabe Olaseni.

•Olaseni missed just nine of his first 61 attempts this season, for an 85.3 percent success rate. He's missed 10-of-23 since (for 56.5 percent).

•White missed just 16 of his first 117 attempts this season, 86.3 percent. He's missed 14-of-38 since (for 62.3 pecent).

But how do you coach someone out of a free-throw slump? Or can it be coached?

"I don't look at it as let's pretend it's not happening," McCaffery said, "but let's not make a big thing about it. Let's just work on it. That's always been my approach.

"If you want to be a good free-throw shooting team, you've got to shoot a lot of free throws. You've got to try to make it competitive. You've got to make sure you carve time out in practice, and then you want to make sure when the guys are doing it, they're concentrating and taking it seriously."

Iowa starting forward Jarrod Uthoff began the season with uncharacteristic misses. He said he routinely makes 94 out of 100 in practices. Yet, he started the season 20-for-35.

Uthoff has since righted the ship, with 12 consecutive makes.

Overall, though, Iowa has slid to 24th in the country (as of Monday) at 74.1 percent.

"We might spend more time on it," McCaffery said. "But it's also something you don't want to accentuate too much, because I really think overall we're a very good free-throw shooting team."

After his third 3-for-6 free-throw outing in his last six games Saturday against Wisconsin, White was frustrated his 15-footers were rimming out.

"It's not like I was bricking them," White said. "They were just sitting up there on the rim and didn't want to bounce in.

"The ball didn't want to go in today, it'll go in tomorrow — that's the saying. They'll go in the next game (Thursday at Michigan). Just put it up there soft and give it a chance."


Season rate: 74.1 percent (354-of-478) — 77.5 percent nonconference, 69.5 percent in Big Ten play.

Team leaders (min. 25 attempts): Peter Jok, 92.9 percent (26-28); Aaron White 80.6 (125-155); Gabe Olaseni 77.4 (65-84); Mike Gesell, 70.0 (28-40); Anthony Clemmons, 70.0 (28-40); Jarrod Uthoff, 68.1 (32-47).

Notable: Iowa has made more free throws (354) than its opponents have attempted overall (344).

Trending down: After starting 2-0 in the Big Ten, Iowa has shot 65.5 percent from the line in the last six games (2-4). During its three-game losing streak, Iowa is shooting 60.7 percent.

Up next: 6 p.m. Thursday at Michigan (ESPN)