Basketball notes: Free not coming easy

Wisconsin has struggled from the charity stripe

As the University of Wisconsin men's basketball team prepares for the beginning of Big Ten play, the primary area where the team could use improvement is at the free throw line.

Frankly, the Badgers need to heed Cherri Chambliss' advice.

"My mom always told me," Sharif Chambliss said. "‘It's a free shot. You go there and you get the easy points.'"

The charity stripe has been anything but free this season. At 64 percent, Wisconsin is ninth in the Big Ten in free throw percentage. The Badgers have made two-thirds or more of their free-throw attempts in just 4 of 11 games. They have survived a 9 of 17 performance at Rutgers and a 13 of 30 night versus UNC Greensboro.

This after Wisconsin shot 72 percent from the line last season.

"We have to increase our percentage," Chambliss said. "People need to go up there, got to find their routine. Just knock them down. Step up and knock them down."

Wisconsin has its share of good free throw shooters. Chambliss has shot 85 percent (17 of 20), while senior forward Zach Morley (22 of 30) and sophomore guard Kammron Taylor (19 of 26) are each at 73 percent. But those three players are all shooting below their career averages.

Six Badgers are below 60 percent, most notably sophomore forward Alando Tucker, UW's leading scorer at 16.1 points per game, who is making just 58 percent of his free throws. Reserve centers Brian Butch and Andreas Helmigk have connected on just 52 percent (11 of 21) and 46 percent (5 of 11). Freshman guard Michael Flowers, junior guard Boo Wade and junior forward Ray Nixon have few attempts but are a combined 7 of 15 (47 percent).

Of Wisconsin's returning players, only senior guard Clayton Hanson and Helmigk are shooting better than their career averages.

Wisconsin employed a conditioning drill as part of its free throw shooting Sunday evening and Monday afternoon. Following each round of free throws, each player who missed had to run the width of the court four times.

"You try all kinds of different things to work on free throws so that it doesn't get monotonous," assistant coach Gary Close said. "In some cases, you want to run just to make it more game-like, in terms of fatigue."

For the Badgers, the bright side is that they are still getting to the line with regularity. Their 21.9 attempts per game is fourth in the Big Ten and slightly ahead of last season's 21.3 average. With 76 attempts in 11 games, Tucker is on pace to challenge Devin Harris' school record for free throw attempts (216), set just last year.

"You want to keep doing that and then hopefully make more when you get there," Close said.

Quick hits

Tucker enters Big Ten play eighth in the league in scoring (16.1 points per game) and seventh in rebounding (6.5). Teammate senior forward Mike Wilkinson is eighth in rebounding at 6.4 per contest. If Wilkinson leads the Badgers in rebounding this season he will become the first player in school history to do so four consecutive seasons.

Wisconsin starting guards Sharif Chambliss and Clayton Hanson each have a 2.33 assist-to-turnover ratio, having combined for 56 assists and just 24 turnovers. The rest of the team has a 0.83 ratio. Other than Chambliss and Hanson, the only player who has more assists than turnovers is little used walk-on guard Tanner Bronson (1 assist, 0 turnovers).

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