Iowa women’s basketball aims to improve free throw percentage against Kansas State, Belmont

The Hawkeyes led the nation in free-throw percentage last year, but they struggled at the line in their first three games.

Grace Smith

Iowa guard Caitlin Clark shoots a free throw during a basketball game between Iowa and Drake at the Knapp Center in Des Moines, Iowa on Sunday, November 13, 2022. Clark shot 6 of 9 on free throws. The Hawkeyes defeated the Bulldogs 93-86 in overtime.

Iowa women’s basketball led the nation in free throw shooting in the 2021-22 season. The Hawkeyes took 570 trips on the line and made 482 baskets — good for 84.6 percent.

And head coach Lisa Bluder was proud of her team’s success at the Charity Stripe.

However, the Hawkeyes struggled off the line in the first three games of the 2022-23 season. Iowa only took 54 shots out of 81 β€” 66.7 percent shots.

While Bluder wants the Hawkeyes to improve their free throw shooting, she doesn’t want to pressure her team.

“Sometimes when you talk about it that much, it almost becomes a bigger elephant in the room,” Bluder said of the emphasis on free-throw shooting. “So, basically, you know, we talked about it a little bit. We said, ‘Hey, if we had taken our normal percentage of free throws, we probably wouldn’t have gone into overtime [against Drake]. But we can only work on it.”

In a packed Knapp Center in Des Moines on Sunday, the Hawkeyes went 17-of-30 from the free-throw line, well below their usual shooting percentage. The Hawkeyes celebrated a 92-86 victory over the Bulldogs in overtime.

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“There were a few going in and out, that’s going to happen,” junior guard Caitlin Clark said after Sunday’s game. “But I think free throws are really all mental when you get to the line and you know you can make that shot. And I think that’s just the biggest thing. We know we’re a great free-throw team and I’m sure we’ll show that in the games to come.”

Iowa’s game at Des Moines marked the first time this season that the Hawkeyes have been attacked by fans when making free throws under pressure.

“We work on this every day in practice,” says Bluder. “But there is a possibility that I could try to create more pressure situations for them.”

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Iowa will head into another hostile environment on Thursday when it travels to Manhattan, Kansas, for an 8 p.m. match against Kansas State. The Wildcats are 2-0 on the season and earn votes in the Associated Press top 25.

Kansas State defeated its Big Ten member Wisconsin 77-63 on Friday. The Wildcats’ recent familiarity with conference teams, as well as their ability to press, will give the Hawkeyes a difficult matchup, Bluder said.

The Hawkeyes also have to contend with senior center Ayoka Lee, a 2021-22 first-team All-American. Lee was nominated for the Preseason Naismith, Wooden and Wade Trophy Awards – an annual award given to the top women’s basketball player. Lee averaged 22 points and 10.2 rebounds last season.

“The press is something we haven’t seen this year that we’ve really had to prepare for,” Bluder said. β€œAnd then half their shots are threes. They do a great job driving and pitching, so we can’t give them that kind of open threes. They are also very good in transition.”

After Iowa’s game against Kansas State on Thursday, the Hawkeyes return to Carver-Hawkeye Arena to play Belmont Sunday at 2 p.m.