Free and Easy

The process seems effortless. A couple of bounces of the ball. A pause. Then a shot. Maybe just one. Maybe two, depending on the shots granted by a referee.

But there is far more to the process than meets the untrained eye. It takes countless hours of practice; countless hours of similar shots, over and over, one by one. Because there is an art to shooting free throws.

And Chris Warren has mastered it.

"Anytime I'm practicing with anything -- free throw, shot -- I try not to miss three in a row," Warren said. "That'd be my goal."


Warren leads the nation in free throw percentage
Courtesy: Associated Press
Warren leads the nation and, obviously, the Southeastern Conference with a 93.7 free throw percentage. At his current pace, he will set the school and conference record for free throw percentage in a season, and rank among the all-time best seasons in NCAA history.

However, free throws haven't always come this easy.

Warren has always been a good, if not great, free throw shooter. Last season, he made good on just over 80 percent of his free throws. Such a spike in his success rate from his junior to senior season is staggering.

Warren, a senior, said it is all about practice. His teammate and fellow senior, Zach Graham, would tend to agree.

Graham has never seen Warren miss more than one free throw in a row in practice. Heck, he can't recall Warren missing more than one in a row in any given game over his four-year college career.

"His focus," Graham said of what makes Warren such a good free throw shooter. "Sometimes we'll be doing pressure free throws in practice, and we'll be joking with him, trying to mess him up. He'll be laughing while he's shooting, but he's still hitting nothing but net. It's just his focus and putting the time in."

Warren has logged plenty of time in the gym. He's a perfectionist. Every step of the process -- from how he holds the ball to how the shot comes off his hand -- is calculated.

"He's always been fundamentally sound shooting the ball," Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy said. "His technique has been very good. What makes good free throw shooters is good technique, repetition and mental toughness. He has them all. He's a mentally tough kid, and when he gets on the free throw line, everyone expects it to go in, starting first and foremost with him."

Practice. Repetition. It seems so simple. But every college basketball player, from the minute he picks up a basketball, has practiced free-throw attempts. Only one, Chris Warren, is making history out of the process.

David Rhodes currently holds the school record for best free throw percentage (90.1) in a single season. The SEC record (91.2) is held by three players. Warren has made 148 of 158 attempts this season. Two of those misses came Saturday in a win over Alabama.


Warren has missed only 10 free throws all season
Courtesy: Associated Press
Warren has made 399 of 464 free throws over his career, good for 86 percent.

"I've shot a lot of free throws. I do the same routine; get a lot of the same results," Warren said.

Warren can usually tell when a free throw is good or not by the way it comes off his hand.

While shooting a free throw following a called technical against Alabama, he leaned to his left as the ball went into the air. He knew it had little chance of going in. Warren tried to will the ball in the net. It missed off left iron.

But unlike previous years, when Warren would sometimes change up his shooting style when a shot would go wrong, he stuck with what he had practiced. He made nine of his 11 free throws in the game.

"Last year when I was shooting free throws, I shot my free throws a bunch of different ways," Warren said. "If I was missing like this in practice, I'd try something else. That'd work for however long until I started missing. I'd get to practice and change it again, as opposed to this year, I just stick with it."

And it's paying off in historical fashion.


Plain and Simple:


Blowout losses aren't easily forgotten. They linger. They sting.

Ask Kennedy. Ole Miss trounced Auburn by 31 points nearly three weeks ago. The Rebels had their best day of the season offensively, shooting 57 percent from the floor in the win. More impressive, they made 70 percent of their shots in a 51-point second half.


Kennedy praised the competitiveness of Auburn
Courtesy: Associated Press
It was an embarrassing loss for Auburn. Despite its record, Auburn (9-19, 2-12 SEC) has been mostly competitive against SEC opponents.

The Tigers lost to Florida, the best team in the conference, by only five points. They took a good Georgia team into overtime. They had Alabama beaten in Tuscaloosa, only to lose by two late. They lost by two at home to Arkansas in their most recent action Saturday.

Ole Miss handed Auburn its worst defeat of its 16-game league schedule.

"Auburn has been very, very competitive in most every game, even though they've only won two," Kennedy said. "It's been a few possessions here or there. We're the only team that's really gotten them.

"I'm sure that'll be in the back of their minds. It's their last home game. Even though they don't have a lot of seniors, it's still the last time they'll play in that building for the year. I'm sure that they'll want to respond to what happened to them, and it's only been a couple of weeks ago."

Meanwhile, Ole Miss (18-11, 6-8 SEC) enters the game attempting to gain ground in its race for the No. 2 seed in the SEC Tournament set for March 10-13. The Rebels have to win their final two games and have Mississippi State lose its final two in order to receive a first-round bye.

"We've got no room for complacency," Kennedy said. "We've got to be efficient. We were very efficient, probably the best we've been all year, in our first outing with them. Our approach needs to be the same in order to give ourselves a chance."

Tipoff is set for 7 p.m., and will be carried by the SEC Network.


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