Jeff Chiu / Associated Press
Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
New University of Colorado women’s basketball coach JR Payne put in all the proper busy work last spring when she arrived in Boulder, tackling a to-do list that included a sit-down meeting with each of her new players.
When Payne got ready to speak with senior Lauren Huggins, she already knew the wiry sharpshooter from Littleton would likely be the Buffs’ top 3-point ace. However, some of the other numbers among Huggins’ statistics appeared disproportionate, to say the least.
Take, for instance, Huggins’ final tally at the free throw line last year: Seven made free throws in eight attempts. And that was in 29 games covering 711 minutes.
Now a fifth-year senior, Huggins has seen it all during her time in Boulder. She was a true freshman during an injury-shortened 2012-13 season that ended with 25 wins and the program’s most recent appearance in the NCAA Tournament. Three seasons later the Buffs managed just seven wins, which led to the firing of former coach Linda Lappe and the hiring of Payne.
While it might be a stretch to expect the long-range specialist to get to the line 10 times per game, Huggins is confident the new regime will help bring out other aspects of her game that have been largely dormant the past four years.
“That was the first thing coach said to me. ‘Is this a misprint?'” Huggins said of her eight free throw attempts in 2015-16. “We’ve been working a lot on ball-handling and finishing at the rim. I’ve always just kind of been that shooter. For my last year they said, ‘We’re not going to try and change you, but we want you to grow more.’
“So you’ll definitely see more of a pull-up game. I might get to the basket a few more times. But that 3-pointer will always be there.”
Huggins wouldn’t say she was explicitly ordered to stand at the 3-point arc and wait for an open shot, but that essentially is what she has done for four years. Despite playing in 89 games and logging more than 1,700 minutes in her career, Huggins has attempted just 29 free throws. To dissect that ratio in minutes, Huggins has basically averaged one free throw every game and a half.
Huggins probably won’t suddenly make her living by driving to the basket. Yet with her soft shooting touch, even getting to the free throw line once or twice a game will prevent teams from simply clamping down on her at the arc.
“We’ve asked her to be more well-rounded,” Payne said. “She was kind of asked to just be strictly be a shooter. We’re going to ask her to be more. I told her I’ll get her to the free throw line more than (eight) in the first few games, just simply running certain things where I know she’ll get fouled. Because she’s such a great shooter, so we have to get her there.”
Of course, Huggins’ long-range prowess will remain the highlight of her game. She enters her senior season ranked 11th in program history in made 3-pointers (132) and 3-point attempts (356). After growing up idolizing the Ceal Barry-led powerhouse CU teams and getting a taste from the sideline of the Buffs’ last tournament run, Huggins is eager to help get the program back on the right track before she hoists that final jumper in black-and-gold.
“For me, it will be a success if we can make progress,” Huggins said. “It’s really hard to jump from last to first overnight. You can’t just snap your fingers and magically be in first. But everyone has put in the hard work and I think if we can continue to make physical progress, we should have the success rate we want the next couple of years.”