Free throw shooting isn’t exactly the sexiest subject in the world but it is quite attractive to Washington.
Go back to last season. The Huskies shot 65.4 percent from the line. That was good enough to finish 318th out of 351 Division I programs.
Or to put it another way, about 90 percent of the teams in college basketball were better than the Huskies.
What about this season? Have the Huskies shown some signs of improvement? Actually, yes. First-year coach Mike Hopkins and his staff has the team converting 71.4 percent of their shots.
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UW (5-2) ranks 154th nationally and that makes the Huskies better than the national average which is 68.3 percent.
“I gotta give the coaches a lot of credit. They worked with these guys,” Hopkins said. “The individual improvement. Getting on the foul line. There’s no secret. You have to rep it. You have to find your routine.
“You gotta fix the mechanics and then you gotta rep it.”
Junior forward Noah Dickerson and sophomore center Sam Timmins are prime examples of UW’s growth.
Dickerson shot 62.4 percent as a freshman and 67.6 percent last season. This year, he’s knocking down close to 75 percent of his attempts.
Timmins went from 37.5 percent last year and increased his totals to 62.5 percent for this season.
Both are also getting to line with more frequency.
Dickerson averaged 3.1 attempts in 2015-16 and 4.6 attempts last year. He’s averaging nearly eight free throw shots this season. Timmins had 0.5 attempts a year ago and has pushed his total to 3.4 attempts under Hopkins.
“You shoot them a lot and at the end of games, there are some things you can control and there are some things you can’t,” Dickerson said. “You can’t control if the ball goes in the basket. One thing we can control is how well we make our free throws at the end of the game. It’s just from practicing reps, so, we practice them a lot.”
Dickerson said Hopkins has placed an emphasis on free throw shooting and reinforced how it can keep a team in games.
Hopkins makes a strong case. Five of UW’s seven games this season have been decided by less than 10 points.
Every team — from junior varsity squads to the NBA — practices free throw shooting. What’s Hopkins and his staff doing that has UW on the upswing?
Part of it is repetition. The rest is the incentive of not doing any extra running in practice. Hopkins said if a player knows he has to do extra running late in practice, the brain is conditioned to make more free throws.
Hopkins also said that players who can find comfort with their shot tend to do better. He referenced his junior year at Syracuse. Hopkins said he struggled early but once he played more, his free throw percentages began improving.
“I was shooting 49 percent from the foul line and to be honest with you and I’d be shaky. I just wasn’t comfortable,” he said. “I remember the first 22 games, I finally got into the rotation. I started feeling more comfortable. First 22 games, I shot 49 percent from the foul line.
“The last 12 games ... I shot more foul shots in those games than I did the first 22. I think made 21 straight. it was a comfort and a confidence. It was through work.”
Ryan S. Clark: @ryan_s_clark