Missed free throws a growing concern for Wildcats

By Greg Echlin
FOXSportsKansasCity.com
November 27, 2010

When cheers of derision echoed inside Sprint Center after the Wildcats converted on their first free throw against Gonzaga last Monday, it was evident the Wildcat followers are keenly aware of the struggles at the stripe.
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So is Wildcats coach Frank Martin. But he wasn�t as concerned about it during the two-game exhibition stretch as he is now.
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Against Texas Southern Friday night, K-State�s free throw shooting was better in the Cats� 84-60 victory. Overshadowing K-State�s 68 percent (13 of 19) shooting from the stripe was Texas Southern�s futility (3 of 11).
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�We haven�t been the greatest foul shooting team in the country. Last year we were kind of down there, but we made free throws when we needed to make them,� said Martin earlier in the week.�

�This year it�s started to get to the point where I�m not worried about it, but it concerns me.�
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The derisive cheer Monday night took place at the 13:46 mark of the first half after Jacob Pullen converted on his second free throw attempt. His first missed attempt plus a pair of missed earlier free throws by Jamar Samuels had K-State at a combined 0-for-3 before Pullen converted.
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Not a large number of misses in relative terms, but patience among the K-State faithful was wearing thin. Before the CBE, in K-State�s previous game against Presbyterian, the Cats missed ten of their 19 attempts. Then against Gonzaga, the Wildcats finished 6-of-11 from the stripe.
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Heading into the CBE championship game Tuesday night against Duke, the Cats through four games were shooting free throws at a 51 percent clip. That put them on the bottom among Big 12 teams, eight percentage points behind the next worst team, the Missouri Tigers.
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The starter with the biggest troubles at the stripe is sophomore forward Wally Judge. After missing three of four against Texas Southern, Judge has converted on only two of ten this season (he didn�t have any attempts against Duke after playing only five minutes in the game).
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A big man with free throw shooting woes isn�t new to the Wildcats. Last year, Luis Colon, the starting center and one of the team�s vocal leaders, shot a dismal 37 percent from the line.
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It wasn�t this bad as a freshman for Judge. He shot 58 percent (36 of 62).
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�We shoot them in practice.� We make them in practice,� said Martin. �It�s part of our youth. Some guy goes up there and misses one and he can�t get that out of his head. He gets wrapped up in the miss. That�s part of our maturation process.�
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The affliction is even affecting Pullen, one of the team�s two seniors.
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As he did in his junior season, Pullen leads the Wildcats in free throw attempts through six games with 32. But even his percentage is down in the early going. Last year Pullen shot 82 percent from the line; 68 percent this year.
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Samuels and Curtis Kelly ranked second and third, respectively, on the team last year in attempts. Neither burned the nets at an impressive rate, Samuels at 56 percent and Kelly slightly better at 66 percent. With the way both players attack the rim, they�re expected to be at the line frequently again this season.
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Samuels, who did not play Friday night against Texas Southern, is connecting at at a 59 percent clip (13 of 22). In three games played since sitting out the Wildcats� first three games, Kelly has made seven of 14. Samuels and Kelly each went to the line seven times against Duke, K-State�s co-leaders in attempts that game.
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Martin has emphasized that free throw attempts are one of K-State�s key ingredients to success. The Wildcats led the nation in attempts last year. This season among Big 12 teams, Texas and Nebraska rank ahead of the Wildcats in attempts in the early going.
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The point differential in K-State�s first six games averages 15.6. When the games tighten up, free throws may play a big part in the outcome.