Assuming Colorado reaches the NCAA Tournament, the Buffaloes have a minimum of five games remaining.
By the end of it, CU could own the NCAA single-season free throw shooting record. At the very least, they are set to shatter the team record.
The current single-season mark of .778 was set during the 2010-11 season, the first of what so far has been an 11-season tenure for head coach Tad Boyle. Going into Thursday’s home date against No. 19 USC (7 p.m., ESPN2), the Buffs boast a free throw percentage of .827.
“I go back to our first year here, our last year in the Big 12, and the key is your best foul shooters get to the free throw line,” Boyle said. “That year it was Alec Burks, Cory Higgins, Marcus Relphorde. Our really good free throw shooters got to the free throw line. This year, Evan Battey, Jeriah Horne, McKinley Wright, those guys are really good free throw shooters and they’re getting the majority of our reps. So that’s why our percentage is what it is.”
While Boyle pointed out that both teams sent their best shooters to the line frequently, that’s about where the similarities end, with this year’s squad using a much more team-wide efficiency for their success at the line than the 2010-11 team.
After reaching the Big 12 semifinals and the NIT Final Four, that 2010-11 team played a program-record 38 games. Burks ended with a single-season record of 302 free throw attempts, posting an .825 mark. Higgins shot .866, also still a team record, in 201 attempts. Those two players combined to take 57.6 percent of the Buffs’ free throw attempts this season. Add 113 attempts from Marcus Relphorde to the equation, and three players accounted for 70.6 percent of CU’s free throw attempts.
The 2010-11 team averaged 23 free throw attempts per game, while this year’s squad enters the USC game averaging 16.9 per game. The two players getting to the line most frequently this season, Battey and Wright, have accounted for just 45.7 percent of the Buffs’ overall attempts.
The entire rotation has contributed to this year’s run at free throw history. Horne is 35-for-38 (.921). Dallas Walton is 40-for-46 (.870). Jabari Walker is 31-for-38 (.816). Even players who don’t get to the line frequently have bolstered the team percentage, such as Eli Parquet (15-for-17), Maddox Daniels (11-for-13), and Keeshawn Barthelemy (8-for-8).
The NCAA record is .822 set by Harvard in the 1983-84 season. The Pac-12 record is .786 set by Arizona in 2003-04.
The Trojans have never been short of athletic talent on its roster. But what has set USC apart this year, and has pushed the Trojans to the top of the Pac-12 standings going into the final two weeks of the regular season, has been a much-improved defense.
With likely NBA draft lottery pick Evan Mobley averaging 2.9 blocks in Pac-12 play, USC leads the league in conference games with 5.1 blocks per game. USC also enters Thursday’s game in Boulder leading the way in Pac-12 games in scoring defense (64.4) and defensive field goal percentage (.398), in addition to ranking second in defensive 3-point percentage (.320).
“Ethan Anderson is a very good defender on the perimeter,” Boyle said. “They’ve got great length at the three-spot (Isaiah) White can really guard and plays with great energy. Both Mobleys have unbelievable size and length and athleticism at the rim. You’ve got rim protection. You’ve got athleticism. You’ve got a couple guys that really take pride in it. You put all that together and you’ve got a pretty darn good defensive team.
“We’re going to have to really work, execute, be patient, and be aggressive. We’ve got to attack the paint. We can’t shy away from Mobley, because if you try to get away from him and score around him or over him, he’s going to block your shot. You have to take it at him and to him. If we do that, we’ll have some success. If we don’t, we’re going to have to make some shots.”
Wright needs 10 points to surpass Stevie Wise for seventh-place on CU’s all-time scoring list. Wright also is set to make his 123rd start, breaking a tie with Wesley Gordon for third all-time, and play in his 124th game, tying Josh Scott for 10th all-time…With his next 3-pointer, CU senior D’Shawn Schwartz will match former teammate Lucas Siewert for eighth all-time…Thursday’s game will be CU’s third against a top-25 foe this season. The Buffs lost at then-No. 12 Tennessee on Dec. 8 and defeated No. 17 Oregon at home on Jan. 7…CU began Thursday ranked 24th in the NET and 21st at KenPom.com…USC is 13th in the NET and 21st at KenPom.com