Lousy at the line

Two of the best teams in college basketball – and two of the worst free-throw shooting teams on the planet – collide tonight at 9 in the FedEx Forum.

Top-ranked Memphis (26-0) is hitting a putrid 58.8 percent from the foul line this year, which ranks the Tigers 326th out of 328 Div. 1 programs. Second-ranked Tennessee (24-2) isn't much better. The Vols are hitting 64.4 percent, which puts them at No. 290.

Memphis' Joey Dorsey is the leader of the lame, hitting just 33.3 percent (29 of 87) from the line this season. His fellow starters at least hit more than they miss. Antonio Anderson checks in at 58.3, Chris Douglas-Roberts at 66.9, Derrick Rose at 68.4 and Robert Dozier at 70.0.

Tennessee's Master of Misfires is J.P. Prince who – perhaps not coincidentally – hails from Memphis. Prince is sinking just 46.7 percent (28 of 60) from the free-throw line in his role as super-sub.

If you discount All-American Chris Lofton, who is 63 of 73 on foul shots (86.3 percent), the rest of Tennessee's roster is a combined 337 of 548 ... a chilly 61.5 percent. Lofton's fellow starters are Wayne Chism (33 of 66 for 50.0 percent), Ramar Smith (61 of 98 for 62.2 percent), Tyler Smith 79-110 for 71.8 percent) and JaJuan Smith (58 of 76 for 76.3 percent).

Don DeVoe, who guided Tennessee to five consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances during his 11-year stint (1979-89) as the Vols' head man, believes free-throw shooting is becoming a lost art.

"I can't believe as I watch the SEC today how many teams are just miserable from the free-throw line," DeVoe said. "They have bad mechanics, and you just wonder why the coaches are letting them continue to use bad form."

Noting that free-throw shooting is "99-percent mental," the former Vol coach added that, "Once you get over the mental part of it, you should become a great free-throw shooter."

Although DeVoe conceded that a few foul shooters simply have a bad stroke, he believes most suffer from a lack of confidence, rather than a lack of form. That's why he always said as little as possible to guys who were struggling.

"I'm a great believer in the idea that it's so mental that you don't want to make a big deal of it," he said. "You only learn that through the years. When you're a new young coach, you believe you can talk to people and get ‘em doing it. You know what? That doesn't work. Once you get them to do the mechanical things right, it usually falls into place. But it's so much mental."

Apparently so. One DeVoe recruit, Anthony Richardson, sank just 33.3 percent of his foul shots as a freshman and 44.1 percent as a senior. In between, however, he hit 79.4 percent as a sophomore and 73.2 as a junior. Richardson drained 31 consecutive free throws as a sophomore in 1985, with a 14-for-14 performance against LSU and an 11-for-11 effort against Vanderbilt in back-to-back outings.

Although DeVoe made a good free-throw shooter out of Richardson, the former UT coach couldn't win every battle.

"Most of my guys were 70-percent free-throw shooters," he noted. "Probably the weakest free-throw shooters I ever had were Chuck Threeths and later Rob Jones."

Threeths shot 40.0 percent (52-130) for his career, hitting 26.1 percent as a freshman, 38.1 as a sophomore, 45.5 as a junior and 41.9 as a senior.

Jones shot 57.7 percent (206-357) for his career, hitting 41.2 as a freshman, 63.0 as a sophomore, 59.4 as a junior and 52.3 as a senior.

DeVoe routinely pulled guys like Threeths and Jones from the lineup in the final minute of a close game, lest the opponent purposely foul them. He did the same during stints as head coach at Virginia Tech, Wyoming, Florida and Navy.

"Yeah, I would," he recalled. "I had a few kids at the Naval Academy that, for whatever reason, just couldn't get over the hump. When you've got a lead with a few seconds left, you have to get those guys out of the game. If they haven't made ‘em earlier in the game, they're not going to make ‘em late."

That's usually the case but not always. Nicky Anosike, hitting just 66 percent from the stripe, wound up at the line with two-tenths of a second left in the Lady Vols' recent showdown with Rutgers. She calmly drained the tying and winning shots for a 59-58 victory.

"I was so proud of Anosike the other night," DeVoe said. "She's not a great free-throw shooter but she found herself in a pressure situation and delivered."

Perhaps the Vols' J.P. Prince or Wayne Chism will prove similarly heroic tonight at the FedEx Forum. Win or lose, DeVoe believes Tennessee could be headed for a memorable March.

"It's been a great ride," he said, "and it's going to be interesting to see how the rest of the season unfolds."

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