UCLA growing through free-throw shooting pains
LOS ANGELES — Prince Ali put his left foot in front of his right and lined up his right-handed free throw. Steve Alford cringed.
After Ali shot 0 for 4 from the free-throw line against South Carolina State on Nov. 17, Alford worked with the third-year sophomore to correct his quirky shooting form. Ali has since gone 12 for 18 from the stripe.
Alford is hoping to see continued growth from his entire team at the foul line, where UCLA was shooting a Pac-12-worst 64.6 percent entering Wednesday’s game against Cal State Bakersfield.
The Bruins attempt 26.8 free throws per game, which is the most in the conference, but are well below Alford’s preferred 75 percent shooting clip. The coach, whose own career free-throw percentage ranks within the top 10 of NCAA history, wants the Bruins to use the foul line as a weapon for their offense.
Unlike last year’s squad that relied on its 3-point shooting, this year’s iteration can use its length and athleticism to attack the basket and draw more fouls. Now it’s a matter of converting the opportunities.
“Just tweaking some of the things with our guys and then it’s on the player,” Alford said this week. “As you know, shooting can become a mental thing, so that’s a mindset thing.”
Alford thinks his young team will grow out of its free-throw struggles. Its three key freshmen, Kris Wilkes, Chris Smith and Jaylen Hands were all shooting less than 63.6 percent entering Wednesday’s game. Wilkes had attempted the second-most free throws on the team, but also had the second-lowest shooting percentage at 56.3 percent.
Ali shot 30 percent through the first three games but has since boosted his percentage to 57.7.
“There’s no reason all four of those guys aren’t above 75 (percent), there’s no reason at all,” Alford said. “So there’s opportunity there […]