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’ve been struggling 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, Nov. 13, 2022. Clark shot 6-of-9 in free throws. The Hawkeyes defeated the Bulldogs in overtime, 93-86.

Chloe Peterson, Sports Editor

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

And head coach Lisa Bluder took pride in her team’s success at the charity stripe.

In the first three games of the 2022-23 season, however, the Hawkeyes have struggled from the line. Iowa has only made 54-of-81 shots — 66.7 percent shooting.

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

“Sometimes when you talk about it so much, it almost makes it a bigger elephant in the room,” Bluder said of emphasizing free throw shooting. “So, basically, you know, we talked about it a little bit. We said, ‘Hey, if we would’ve made our normal percentage of free throws, we probably wouldn’t have gone to overtime [against Drake]. But all we can do is work on it.’”

In a sold-out 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 squeaked out a victory over the Bulldogs in overtime, 92-86.

RELATED: Iowa women’s basketball squeaks by Drake in noisy atmosphere

“There was a couple that went in and out, that’s gonna happen,” junior guard Caitlin Clark said following the game on Sunday. “But I think free throws are really all mental, stepping up to the line knowing that you can make that shot. And I think that’s just the biggest thing. We know we’re a great free throw shooting team and I’m sure in games going forward, we’ll show that.”

Iowa’s game in Des Moines was the first time this season the Hawkeyes were heckled by fans while taking free throws in pressure situations.

“We work on them in practice every day,” Bluder said. “But there’s a possibility I could try to create more pressure situations for them.”

RELATED: Iowa women’s basketball honors deep ties with Drake, former Hawkeye Megan Meyer

Iowa will head into another hostile environment on Thursday when it travels to Manhattan, Kansas, to take on Kansas State at 8 p.m. The Wildcats are 2-0 on the season and are receiving votes in the Associated Press Top 25.

Kansas State defeated fellow 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 will also have to contend with senior center Ayoka Lee, a 2021-22 first-team All-American. Lee was named to the preseason Naismith, Wooden, and Wade Trophy awards — an annual honor 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 yet this year that we’ve had to really prepare for,” Bluder said. “And then, half their shots are threes. They do a great job of driving and pitching, so we can’t give them those type of open threes. Also, they’re very pretty good in transition.”

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

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