SHIOCTON – It’s always tough to watch good basketball teams lose playoff games because of missed free throws.
It has happened to a number of teams in the girls’ and boys’ WIAA postseason and Shiocton girls’ basketball coach Rob Hendrickson is hoping missed free throws don’t rear their ugly head during his team’s WIAA Division 4 state semifinal against La Crosse Aquinas.
The Chiefs (18-8) battle the top-ranked Blugolds (26-0) at 8:15 p.m. Thursday at the Resch Center in Ashwaubenon, and shooting from the charity stripe will be something to watch as a possible key to the game.
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Shiocton has shot just 57 percent from the free throw line for the season (278-of-490) and Hendrickson believes there will be opportunities for free throws against the Aquinas pressure defense.
“With the way (Aquinas) plays defense, they play essentially five one-on-one games out there,” Hendrickson said. “Their coach believes in full-out denial of passes and trusts his on-ball defenders to defend the ball. And we have some pretty athletic girls and I think they’re going to have to adjust to that. When you’re playing so tight on me and I attack you a lot of times you will foul me. The goal is to get to the free throw line, but we have to make them.”
Hendrickson said his team shot just 2-for-14 from the free throw line in the first half of their 67-58 victory over Manitowoc Lutheran. He said he has helped coordinate practices to emphasize the importance of free throws.
“We have a drill that we do every day for 10 minutes,” he said. “What we have to do is hit five free throws in a row and we put a point up for us. And in 10 minutes, they have to get 50 of those or more. The opponent has 50. And what’s funny is in practice right now, we are literally doing better than we have ever done. We’re getting to 60 (points) on those sequences where we make five free throws in a row. If you think about it, if you make five free throws in a row, that’s unbelievable. And if you get to four, that’s 80 percent. And if you get to three and miss your fourth, that’s 75 percent.
“For some reason, and I’m not sure if it’s because we lack focus or just tighten up, but we struggle. But in the second half, we make them when we need to.”
Only Cudahy in Division 2 (56 percent) and Milwaukee Academy of Science (52 percent) in Division 5 shoot worse from the free throw line than Shiocton in the state tournament field.
Against a team like Aquinas, Hendrickson knows his team needs to connect when the situation arises.
“It’s a concern, but I’m not going to get these kids to care any more about their free throws by getting on them about it,” he said. “They know. They’re smart girls and they know they’re going to have to make them and they know for years where they’ve lost games by not making free throws. Hopefully there’s a moment in time Thursday — and, hopefully, Saturday — that they relax and it becomes second nature. It hasn’t been lately.”
Here’s a recap of how I fared on predicting the state qualifiers at the start of the WIAA girls’ basketball tournament a few weeks ago:
Division 1: Appleton North vs. Milwaukee King; Middleton vs. De Pere. Verdict: HIT – I correctly predicted all four semifinalists. And I’m sticking with my prediction of Appleton North over Middleton in the final.
Division 2: Hortonville vs. Cudahy; Beaver Dam vs. Monroe. Verdict:PUSH – Hortonville and Beaver Dam reached the field but Pewaukee and Stoughton did not. I think Hortonville reaches the final, but the Golden Beavers are just too big and talented to not claim the gold.
Division 3: Bloomer vs. Martin Luther; Wrightstown vs. Edgewood. Verdict: PUSH – I feel great about picking Martin Luther and Wrightstown. I missed badly on picking Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau and Whitewater. I even went so far as to pick Whitewater as the champ. But for the updated version, I think Edgewood is the choice here. Maybe Wrightstown proves me wrong? My fingers are crossed that it does.
Division 4: Durand vs. Howards Grove; Shiocton vs. Aquinas. Verdict:MISS – My pick to win it all, Oshkosh Lourdes, was upset by Fond du Lac Springs in regional play. And I’ll admit Shiocton took me by surprise by getting to the semifinals. It’s hard to pick against Aquinas when presented this quartet of teams.
Division 5: Clayton vs. Milwaukee Academy of Science; Loyal vs. Bangor. Verdict:HIT – I nailed three of the four picks, with Loyal the surprise. I initially went with Newman Catholic out of that sectional. I will stick with my prediction of Clayton winning it all.
Ricardo Arguello: 920-993-7191 or email@example.com; on Twitter @PCRicardo
Kimberly selling tickets
Kimberly High School will sell tickets for the Thursday night’s boys’ basketball sectional semifinal game today from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Thursday from 7:30 a.m. to noon. Tickets will also be sold at the door Thursday beginning at 5:55 p.m. Tickets are $5 for all spectators. The game will be played at Manitowoc Lincoln High School.