No more 'foul' shooting

When Tennessee sank just 4 of 15 free-throw attempts in a 47-45 win at LSU last Saturday the repercussions were both immediate and dramatic.

One, fans bombarded the UT basketball office with advice.

Two, the Vols bombarded the baskets at Pratt Pavilion with foul shots.

Opinions may vary as to which reaction deserves the credit, but this much is obvious: Tennessee's free-throw shooting was vastly improved in Wednesday night's 93-71 drubbing of Arkansas.

The Vols drained their first 11 attempts and finished 27 of 37 from the line. If you discount a 1-for-4 performance by walk-on players in mop-up duty, Tennessee's scholarship players made an impressive 78.8 percent (26 of 33).

Head coach Bruce Pearl said his players shot "a boatload of free throws" during practice on Monday and Tuesday. Then, with a smug grin, the coach added:

"I want to give a shout-out to all of our fans … Thank you so very much for all of the advice – text messages, emails. I think I know more about free-throw shooting now than I ever have. It's been a big help, and I appreciate it. Thanks."

Pearl has said many times that success at the foul line often hinges on WHO is doing the shooting. Obviously, sharp-shooting guards such as Chris Lofton and JaJuan Smith are more likely to make a high percentage than inside players such as Wayne Chism, Duke Crews and Tyler Smith.

Even Chism, Crews and Tyler Smith were hitting Wednesday night, however. Chism was 6 of 7, Crews 3 of 4 and Tyler Smith 5 of 6. That's a combined 14 of 17 … or 82.4 percent.

Chism, who entered Wednesday's play shooting a putrid 44.9 percent from the line, grinned broadly and conceded he was "very proud of myself."

Crews said the key in free-throw shooting is simply focusing without pressing.

"We put a whole lot of pressure on ourselves when we go to the line," he said. "It's just about relaxing. We know we can make the free throws. It's a 15-foot shot, and we've been doing it all our life.

"It's really about going up there, relaxing and knocking down the shot."

The 37 free-throw attempts Wednesday night was the Vols' fourth-highest total this season and most since they shot 42 against Western Kentucky on Dec. 15. Wednesday's total could be traced to the Vols spending more time maneuvering inside and less time bombing from outside.

"I thought we showed pretty good discipline, not taking too many 3 balls," Pearl said. "We were trying to get the ball to the basket. There was a real emphasis this week."

Arkansas has a towering front line, so Tennessee wanted to attack the basket and try to get the Razorbacks' big men in foul trouble.

"Arkansas defensively is obviously very physical, and we took it to contact," Pearl said. "JaJuan Smith got us off to a really good start (hitting 3 of 3 foul shots in the opening minutes). Wayne goes 6 for 7. Tyler goes 5 for 6. Duke was 3 for 4 in the first half, so we sent a strong message."

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