Men's basketball notes: free throw bonanza

MSU's 80 percent performance; Davis, Wilkinson provide post presence; Morley returning to form

It takes an outstanding free throw shooter to top the magical 80 percent mark. But a team? That is what Michigan State has accomplished this season, shooting an incredible 81 percent overall – first in the nation – and 82 percent in Big Ten play.

"That's pretty impressive," UW senior guard Clayton Hanson. "Guys are confident, stepping to the line and knocking them down, that's all you can say."

Six Spartans shoot at least 82 percent from the free-throw line and three make 88 percent or better. Shannon Brown leads the pack at 89 percent (59 of 66) and Alan Anderson (74 of 84) and Kelvin Torbert (51 of 58) check in at 88 percent. Maurice Ager (70 of 85), Chris Hill (23 of 28) and Delco Rowley (14 of 17) are at 82 percent.

"It is an upperclassmen group that has had some experience and there are some very good shooters in the group," UW assistant coach Greg Gard said.

The Spartans, however, struggled from the line in their last matchup with Wisconsin, making just 6 of 11 in a 62-59 loss Jan. 16 in Madison. MSU missed the front end of two one-and-one opportunities in the closing minutes of that game, as UW rallied back from a 59-51 deficit.

The Spartans also missed key free throws down the stretch in an 81-74 loss to Duke earlier this season.

Wisconsin has had its own free throw issues this season, making just 66 percent this year, 225th in the nation.

"The first battle is to make sure you are getting there," Gard said. "There are going to be times where you have streaks where you knock them all down. There are going to be times where you miss them. We've had times where we've gone on rolls and made a lot of them in a row and times when we've been cold and we haven't made them when we should."

Wilkinson, Davis provide strong post presence

Two of the top forwards in the Big Ten, Wisconsin's Mike Wilkinson and Michigan State's Paul Davis, will square off Thursday.

Davis, who is averaging 12.0 points and 7.1 rebounds per game this season, has had some big games in losses to UW the past two seasons.

Last year in East Lansing, Davis was a one-man wrecking crew, producing 25 points and 10 rebounds in just 28 minutes before he was sidelined with leg cramps. In the two teams' meeting in Madison earlier this season, Davis led MSU with 20 points and five rebounds.

Wilkinson is averaging 16.7 points and 8.7 rebounds in his last three games against the Spartans and is posting 14.2 points and 7.3 rebounds per game this season.

"Two players that epitomize Big Ten basketball," UW coach Bo Ryan said. "I just feel what Paul's done for Michigan State and their program and what Mike's done for our program are very similar in that solid post players who have to be paid attention to by the defenses of the other team. Are unselfish. Do the grunt work. I think both of them are really guys that if you point to a team and you want to point to the heart, I think you point to both those guys. It just seems they've been very consistent in their careers with their results."

Morley's production on the rise

It is no secret that Zach Morley has had an up-and-down Big Ten season. In the conference opener at Purdue, the 6-foot-8 senior forward made 6 of 8 3-pointers in scoring a career-high 22 points. But in the next eight games he scored just 25 points total, an average of 3.1 per game.

Morley broke his left pinky in practice Jan. 9, a day after UW's second Big Ten game, but continued to play with a splint on his hand. He then injured his left leg in Wisconsin's loss at Minnesota Feb. 5 and missed the next week of practice and the Badgers' win over Iowa Feb. 9.

Morley, though, returned for UW's game at Illinois Feb. 12 and scored seven points on 3 of 6 from the field. In the Badgers' next game four days later, he posted double figures for the first time in more than a month, tallying 12 points on 4 of 8 shooting in 20 minutes against Michigan.

"I think Zach has overcome a couple injuries," Ryan said. "A broken finger and a leg injury and he just still likes to compete."

Morley, a junior college transfer a year ago, averaged 8.9 points and 5.8 rebounds per game in his first year at UW. When he is getting shots and contributing offensively he is a key part of the Badgers' attack but that has happened less frequently this season. His production has slipped to 7.0 points and 4.6 rebounds per game this year, due in large part to the injuries and opponents' defensive rotations.

"His basketball IQ, as we've always said, is pretty good," Ryan said. "His dad and brother coach and have coached. We like what he brought to the table last year in his first year and we like what he's doing this year. I just wish for his own mental comfort [he] was just in a little bit better condition and not nicked up. But he's a guy that's definitely helped us get to where we are and to do the things that we've done."

Morley, who looked very sharp against Michigan, said after that game that his leg injury was "just one of those things where just needed time to rest and let it heal and not try to do something on it that I shouldn't."

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