In breakthrough season, USF still brutal from stripe

In two of its three defeats, the Bulls missed at least 10 free throws
USF sophomore David Collins and the Bulls are getting more free-throw attempts this season, but struggling to make them. [JOEY KNIGHT | Times]
USF sophomore David Collins and the Bulls are getting more free-throw attempts this season, but struggling to make them. [JOEY KNIGHT | Times]
Published January 9

TAMPA — The makeover of Bulls men's basketball remains ongoing. Despite one of the best starts in program history, a few blemishes have yet to be buffed.

Which leads us to the free-throw line.

"We have to be better with making free throws," USF scoring leader David Collins said. "And I think that's across the board because I haven't shot free throws well, so I'm not one to point the finger."

Indeed, no Bull has the market cornered on clangs at the stripe. Entering tonight's American Athletic Conference home game against Tulane, USF (11-3, 1-1) ranks 338th of 351 Division I teams in free-throw percentage (61.9).

In three-point losses to Georgetown and Tulsa, they missed 10 and 11 free throws, respectively. Of the eight players with at least 20 attempts, only sophomore Justin Brown (20-for-24) is shooting better than 75 percent from the stripe.

"With free-throw shooting, it's always a delicate balance," second-year coach Brian Gregory said. "Our guys are working on it, that's all we can ask 'em to do."

RELATED: Finally, there's hope for USF basketball

Gregory starred at point guard for the most proficient free throw-shooting team in Oakland (Mich.) University history. The 1988-89 Golden Grizzlies hit 77.5 percent of their attempts (452-for-583) en route to a 20-8 season. Juxtapose that history with the struggles of Gregory's current team, and the irony seems cruel.

Here's something even more cruel: The Bulls are getting to the free-throw line more than ever.

Thanks to the aggressiveness and dribble penetration of its guards, not to mention more assertion down low, USF ranks sixth nationally with 412 free-throw attempts. At their current clip, the Bulls will shatter the program's season record of 796 set in 2010.

But the purpose is defeated if the shots don't steadily fall.

So the Bulls continue working at it. It's all they can do.

"If you look at progression of players, for the most part, guys from the free-throw line in particular continue to improve as they get more experience and play more," Gregory said.

"They shoot better as juniors and seniors than they do as freshmen and sophomores. And unfortunately for us, we have a lot of freshmen and sophomores playing."

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.

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