Foul shooting fouls up Final Four bid

It sounds simple, but it's true. If Tennessee had been better at shooting free throws, the Vols' basketball team could be advancing to the Final Four this weekend. They could have won 30 games. They could have been the best team in school history.

But the inability to hit an uncontested 15-foot shot proved costly.

Tennessee lost five games this season it could have won with 70 percent free-throw shooting.

The Vols lost by one point to Ohio State after making eight of 17 free-throw attempts.

They lost by two points at Ohio State Jan. 13 when they hit five of 11 free throws.

They lost by three at Auburn when they made seven of 15 free throws.

They lost to LSU in overtime in the SEC Tournament when they hit 12 of 20 free throws.

They lost by one at Vanderbilt when they made six of 15 from the foul line.

Tennessee associate head coach Tony Jones said that should be ample incentive for players to shoot hundreds of free throws in the offseason.

Free throw shooting comes down to three things: Confidence, technique and focus. If you're missing one of those three elements, you probably won't hit 70 percent from the line.

Can you improve significantly as a foul shooter?


JaJuan Smith went from 56.9 percent as a sophomore to 72.3 percent as a junior.

Coach Bruce Pearl says point guard Ramar Smith, who hit 66 percent this season, will be an 80 percent free throw shooter later in his career.

Wayne Chism and Duke Crews were both under 60 percent. Chism has a chance to be a 70 percent foul shooter. I doubt Crews does.

Ryan Childress hit four of five threes against Ohio State in the NCAA Tournament, yet shot 53 percent from the foul line. No reason Childress can't improve to 70 percent. If you can hit threes, you should be able to make free throws.

As a team, Tennessee shot 65 percent. In SEC games only, the Vols were last in the league at the foul line.

Six SEC teams shot right at 70 percent or better. Of the six that didn't, only Florida and Tennessee made the NCAA Tournament.

Florida has enough talent to overcome average free-throw shooting.

Tennessee did not.


Don't call UT signee Brian Williams a project.

The 6-foot-10, 300-pounder from Cincinnati Prep Harmony will be a key part of the Vols' rotation next season, Tony Jones said. Plus, he brings Bronx, N.Y. toughness.

Jones said Williams can run the floor, has good feet, is a nice passer and has a high basketball IQ. Jones predicts Williams will play about 20 minutes per game.

Speaking of recruiting, even with the dismissal of Tony Passley, don't expect Tennessee to sign more than one player in April.

That's because the Vols are in great shape with several top-notch players in the 2008 recruiting class. The key prospects: Elliott Williams of Memphis, 6-10 Phillip Jurich of Chattanooga, 6-8 Chris Singleton of the Atlanta area and 7-2 Catalian ``BoBo'' Baciu, who is from outside of Asheville, N.C.


While no one questions Pearl is a terrific coach, he has been second-guessed on late-game decisions in which he has put the ball in the hands of true freshman Ramar Smith rather than SEC Player of the Year Chris Lofton, the team's leading scorer.

Smith has attempted three late game-winning shots and failed to convert each time.

Why not get the ball to Lofton?

Pearl said it depends on the time remaining.

``When you've got to get from the defensive end to the offensive end, there are two ways to do it: One is to pass it. The other is to dribble it,'' Pearl said.

``Late in a game, they (opponents) are not going to let you pass it to Lofton. You've got to dribble it to him and hand it off, if time permits....We'll do what we can to get it in Chris' hands.

``With a lead, you can get it in Chris' hands and they can foul him. But to get it from one end (of the court) to the other, it has to be in the point guard's hands.''

Against Ohio State in the NCAA Tournament, Ramar Smith rebounded a missed free throw with 6.5 seconds left and raced down court, only to have his shot blocked by 7-footer Greg Oden. Pearl didn't feel there was enough time to set up a play to Lofton.

That may be true. But Lofton is your best outside shooter, your best contested shooter, your best free-throw shooter and you're best finisher on drives.

Ramar Smith is a good player, but at crunch time, he's no Lofton.


Pearl said his team didn't always play mentally or physically tough on defense unless he was ``barking'' at them from the sideline.

That's one reason UT's second-half defense typically wasn't as good as the first-half defense, because your defense is on the far court in the second half.

Why did UT need to hear Pearl's barking?

``Youth, for one,'' Pearl said. ``Veterans like Lofton and JaJuan that are quiet, need to be more vocal. Defense is often times about communication and I don't think our guys did a very good job with communication. We can help them communicate when the defense is in front of us, but when it's down at the other end, we can't.''

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