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March 8, 2011

Free throws plague Huskers down the stretch

It's been by far Nebraska's most glaring deficiency over the course of the past four games, and no one on the team really knows how to correct it.

In three losses decided by a grand total of 15 points, the Huskers have been their own worst enemies in the sense that they have been absolutely dismal from the free throw line.

After shooting better than 72 percent from the line as a team on the season following its upset over then-No. 3 Texas, NU shot just 57.6 percent (45-of-75) from the charity stripe in its final four regular-season games.

On the other side, Nebraska's opponents have shot 77.6 percent from the line in that span, accounting for a 16-point disadvantage in its three losses. Think those 16 points might have come in handy in losses of four, one and 10 points?

"I don't know that we're not playing good basketball if you look at our statistics and stuff, except free throw shooting," head coach Doc Sadler said. "If we would've made our free throws than we would've beat Kansas State and we would've beaten Iowa State. That's the one area that we haven't done a good job in in the last four games.

"This year had been a little different, we just can't make a free throw. If we could just make a free throw I think we'd all be really happy around here."

Nebraska's free throw struggles go back even to its win over the Longhorns, as the Huskers made just 6-of-11 from the line in the final 2:36 of the game, including missing two front ends of one-and-one free throw opportunities, after hitting 12 of their first 14 free throws.

As a result, Texas was able to erase an 11-point deficit in a span of just 31 seconds and nearly pull off the victory.

Since then, Nebraska shot 66.7 percent in a loss to Kansas State - including 55.6 percent in the second half - then 44.4 percent in a loss to Iowa State, 60.9 percent in a win over Missouri and then 46.7 percent in Saturday's loss to Colorado.

In particular, free throws were arguably the single biggest factors against Iowa State and Colorado. The Cyclones hit 19-of-22 (86.3) from the line in their overtime win, including a perfect 12-of-12 in the second half.

The Buffaloes took full advantage of NU's woes from the line as well, as they hit 15-of-18 (83.3) and out-scored the Huskers by eight from the charity stripe in a game that was still well within reach in the final minutes.

"I would say it's more of a confidence thing, because we've been practicing free throws," said sophomore center Jorge Brian Diaz, who is just 1-of-9 from the line in the past four games.

"That's the one thing we've been working on the most. We've been shooting free throws every day, and we've been making them in practice. I just think it's more of a mental thing and we've just got to go out and be confident that we're going to make them in games."

With one last chance to sneak into the NCAA Tournament with a run through the Big 12 Tournament this week, Nebraska knows it will be more important than ever to capitalize on every opportunity it gets.

However, figuring out a way to fix a free throw problems, which as Diaz said are more mental than anything to do with technique, is much easier said than done.

"I don't have the answer to that," Sadler said. "If I had the answer to free throw shooting, man, I'd be a lot richer than any of you guys. I'd be coaching Shaq somewhere and getting paid a lot of money."



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