There have been discussions among fans about what next season's squad will need to replace from this past season's squad. Some think Beth's three-point shooting will be sorely missed, while others make the argument for Shereka’s scoring ability, Erika’s leadership, or Lindsey's versatility. What worries me most, however, is not knowing who on next year's team is going to attempt free throws.
Each Boilermaker squad from 1997-1998 to 2002-2003 has attempted more than seven hundred free throws during the season, passing what had been the school record for attempts (699) set in the 1988-1989 season. All of those squads easily surpassed averaging 20 attempts per game.
In 2003-2004, the Boilermakers still averaged more than 20 attempts per game, and almost made as many free throws (491) as their opponents attempted (501). But the squad had only 680 attempts on the season, and no one reached triple figures except Shereka Wright, whose 278 attempts rank third in the single-season record book.
I find the last stat troubling because all of the squads that attempted more than 700 free throws in a single season had at least two players in triple figures:
· 1997-1998: Stephanie White-McCarty (199), Ukari Figgs (156), Katie Douglas (122), Camille Cooper (111)
· 1998-1999: Stephanie White-McCarty (195), Ukari Figgs (175), Katie Douglas (148)
· 1999-2000: Katie Douglas (227), Camille Cooper (134)
· 2000-2001 Shereka Wright (203), Katie Douglas (192), Camille Cooper (155)
Shalicia Hurns (122), Kelly Komara (110)
· 2001-2002: Shereka Wright (279), Mary Jo Noon (124), Kelly Komara (118)
· 2002-2003: Shereka Wright (311), Erika Valek (116), Mary Jo Noon (107)
No single player had to place the burden of getting free throw attempts on herself, and there was always at least one non-senior on each squad who attempted at least 100 free throws in a season, so there was a feeling that a line of succession was in place. During the 2003-2004 season, however, no player aside from Shereka made more than 2.0 free throws per game or attempted more than 3.0.
Scoring at the free throw line is an easy way either to expand a lead or to trim a deficit. There’s not much physical exertion, there’s no loss of precious seconds from the clock, and perhaps most importantly, the opposing team is that much closer to losing a player because of foul trouble. Attempting a large number of free throws also suggests that a squad is being aggressive on offense, and not settling for jump shots each trip down the floor. Getting to the free throw line clearly has its advantages, and the Boilermakers have exploited those advantages to win close games every year.
Next year’s Boilermaker squad may find getting to the free throw line a difficult task. Shereka has moved on to the WNBA. Katie Gearlds may be next year’s best scoring threat, but she operated almost exclusively as a jump shooter this past season. Erin Lawless has the quickness and agility to cause problems for opponents down low and may pass triple digits, but she can't be the only player to do so. Finally, most of the team’s depth, five freshmen and a junior college transfer, are going to have to adjust to the quickness and physical grind of NCAA Division I basketball and may not immediately play aggressively. Unless a couple of those newcomers make the transition smoothly, trips to the free throw line may become more infrequent for the Boilermakers in 2004-2005.