Colorado continues to make a serious assault on the NCAA’s single-season free throw percentage record.
During the consecutive wins the Buffaloes have posted heading into Saturday’s key Pac-12 Conference showdown against UCLA (8 p.m., ESPN2), CU has reaped the benefits of getting to the free throw line frequently. It wasn’t so long ago the Buffs were wondering where all the whistles had gone.
Culminating in last week’s loss at Oregon, the Buffs endured a stretch in which they posted their three lowest totals of free throw attempts this season in a span of six games. Two of those were losses, going 5-for-6 in a home loss against Utah on Jan. 30 and going 8-for-9 in last week’s loss at Oregon (The Buffs also went 5-for-6 in a win at Stanford on Feb. 11).
Since that Oregon loss, the Buffs went 19-for-22 at the line in a win at Oregon State and posted a 15-for-16 performance during Thursday’s win against No. 19 USC.
Asked on Friday if the more frequent attempts was a result of any increased aggression by the Buffs around the rim, head coach Tad Boyle said CU’s offensive approach hasn’t wavered.
“We haven’t changed the way we play,” Boyle said. “Trying to play inside-out. Trying to attack the basket. Trying to attack the paint. We have not changed the way we play the game. I can promise you that. I’ll let you make the conclusions to the question, given the game plan offensively against Oregon and previous games where we’ve gone to the foul line, four, five, or six times versus 18, 15, 20 times, no different.
“That’s something you have to adjust to in college basketball night in and night out. It may be called differently. You have to be able to adjust to that. But getting to the foul line is key for us, and we want to continue to do that because obviously we’re a very good free throw shooting team.”
In the record-tracker update, CU enters the UCLA game with a free throw percentage of .831. The NCAA record is .822, set by Harvard during the 1983-84 season. The Pac-12 record is .786 (Arizona in 2003-04) and the CU team record is .778 (2010-11).
The Buffs are averaging 16.8 free throw attempts overall this season, and 15.9 per game in Pac-12 play.
Senior Jeriah Horne went off for 24 points in CU’s win Thursday against USC, matching his season-high and helping the Buffs to secure a first-round bye at the Pac-12 tournament.
Horne arrived in Boulder last summer as the first graduate transfer to join the CU program. Almost by definition, graduate transfers seek situations most beneficial to them individually. Horne certainly has done that, but at the same time he has ingratiated himself seamlessly into a team already high on chemistry.
One game before Horne erupted against the Trojans, he played less than seven minutes in the second half of the win at Oregon State as Boyle opted to ride the hot hand of freshman Tristan da Silva. Still, Horne was called upon late and he knocked down two free throws with 26.4 seconds remaining to help keep the Beavers at bay.
Horne didn’t play poorly at Oregon State, going 3-for-5 (2-for-3 on 3-pointers) with 10 points and five rebounds. Other players might have stewed about the pine time, and perhaps subsequently miss the free throws that Horne calmly stepped in and swished. Horne didn’t, and on Thursday he was the one whose hot hand sparked the Buffs.
“He’s a team guy, and it’s been imperative for me to communicate that to Jeriah. We’ve tried to do that, and he’s accepted that,” Boyle said. “He wants to play. He wants to be on the floor late in the games. And that’s what makes him great. He wants that. He doesn’t shy away from that.
“Against Oregon State, we kind of went with Tristan. I put (Horne) in on offense, he got fouled, he made two free throws and came back out. I talked to Jeriah about what my thought process was, what our thought processes were as coaches, to make that decision. It’s incumbent upon me as a coach to explain to him why I’m doing what I’m doing. Not to get his blessing or ask that he agrees with me. Because, again, he wants to be on the floor. I’ve had to say the same thing to Dallas Walton at times. Dallas has not been on the floor a lot late in games. Not because we don’t have confidence in Dallas, it’s just that maybe somebody else is a better matchup defensively. And I’m usually going to go with the defensive matchup more than I am the offensive matchup, unless I have the ability to go offense-defense.
“So yeah, Jeriah has really, really taken on the team-first mentality. And that’s why his teammates love him so much in such a short period of time. They see that and they recognize that.”
McKinley Wright IV enters the UCLA game having made 17 consecutive free throws. For the top free throw shooting team in the nation, that’s just the fourth-longest streak for CU this year. Between the Jan. 20 game at Washington and the Feb. 6 game against Arizona, Wright made 22 straight free throws while forward Evan Battey converted 20 in a row. Horne opened the season by making 22 in a row…Wright needs eight points to surpass Askia Booker for sixth-place on CU’s all-time scoring list…Senior D’Shawn Schwartz is set to play in his 123rd game, which will move him into a four-way tie for 12th all-time with Levi Knutson, Stephane Pelle, and Will Smith…Over the past five games, CU starting guard Eli Parquet has shot .600 (9-for-15) on 3-pointers…The Buffs on Saturday were ranked 16th in the NET and began the day ranked 17th at KenPom.com.