It's not the most glamorous facet of college basketball. It doesn't bring fans out of their seats or get reviewed on instant replay. But free throws can play a significant role in the game's outcome, and the Stetson women's basketball team has benefited from strong free throw shooting all season long.
The Hatters (4-3) will bring a .761 free throw percentage into their 7 p.m. Saturday night game at Charlotte (5-2). That mark currently leads the Atlantic Sun Conference and ranks Stetson 16th nationally.
"We work on it every day and we get a lot of reps in, I think that's a big part of it," Stetson head coach Lynn Bria said. "They have a routine and their concentration is good. Overall we are a pretty good free throw shooting team and we have been the last couple of years."
In 2010-11 the Hatters broke the school single-season record with a .725 free throw percentage, and then Stetson surpassed that mark with a .754 percentage last year. This year's team is already ahead of that pace.
Senior Shanasa Sanders is one of five Hatters currently shooting over 80% from the free throw line. She has hit 15 of her 17 attempts on the season, good for a conference-best .882 percentage. Although junior Sasha Sims technically has a higher free throw percentage than Sanders at .917, Sims currently is shy of the "two free throws per game" minimum required to be ranked among the conference leaders.
"First thing I do is catch my breath," Sims said of her approach at the free throw line. "I think that helps a lot. You have 10 seconds to get yourself together. I don't have a routine, per se, it's more of a mental thing."
Sims says the pressure free throw shooting drills the team works on in practice may be a factor in the in-game success.
"It's a one-and-one situation where if you miss the first shot, you have to run two down-and-backs in 22 seconds," Sims said. "If you miss the second, you have to run one down-and-back in 11 seconds. If you make them both, you don't have to run at all. Our team doesn't necessarily like to run, so pressure free throws helps us make them in the game."
One aspect of the team's free throw performance that Bria would like to see some improvement on is getting to the line more frequently. While Stetson has shot 88 free throws on the season, Hatter opponents have taken 148 free throws, a difference of 60 through just the first seven games of the season.
"We to try to get in the paint as much as we can," Bria said. "So far our opponents have done a good job of taking away the paint, and therefore we have been shooting more outside shots. But I do think we can be more aggressive and attack the basket a little bit more and get fouled. Sometimes we settle for the jumper, like in the first half in the Lynn game we settled for too many outside shots."
Fans can listen to Saturday's game for free on HatterVision. Bill Topping will have the call. Live Stats, the @StetsonWBB Twitter feed, and Hat-Alerts are also available for in-game updates. Charlotte will be providing a video broadcast on a premium pay-per-view basis.