How do you get your players prepared to shoot free throws in a raucous, high-pressure situation?
Faced with that question since the start of the year -- and the start of Minnesota's troubles at the line -- coach Richard Pitino is stopping just short of having Goldy charge at the players as they toe the foul stripe.
For the last three weeks, the team has been shooting extra free throws, before and after practice. Now, he's making them run on misses and trying to get throw them off balance on the line.
"Lately he's been blowing whistles, honking horns, throwing all kind of distractions just to get our mind more focused," junior guard Carlos Morris said. "That's how it's going to be in the game."
It's very difficult, obviously, to simulate a road environment and a high-stakes situation in practice. At the same time, Pitino doesn't want to make too much of the troubles that are likely mostly mental.
"If you bring it up a lot, guys start thinking about it," he said. "You don't want to bring too much light to it. I just want to make sure they're doing their routine, whether it's good, bad, whatever it is."
Said senior guard Andre Hollins: "The thing is not psyching yourself off on the free throws. That's the biggest thing -- keep doing what you've been doing, doing what you did to get here. All of us are good free-throw shooters but the numbers haven't shown that so far."
Minnesota ranks 309th in the nation in free-throw percentage, making just 63.9 percent of its shots in 20 games. In Big Ten play, the Gophers are hitting just 61.7 percent. At Nebraska on Tuesday, the Gophers made a season-low 47.4 percent.
"We're not as bad of a free-throw team as we're showing right now -- we actually can shoot free throws," Morris said. "But it's just like that right now, we're struggling right now."
Just how dramatic have Illinois' injuries been? After the loss of Aaron Cosby (eye), coach John Groce added a former team manager to the roster ahead of the team's road trip to Minnesota (1:15 Saturday, BTN). Read more here.
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