Photo by Keyli Chisesi (Go Big Blue Country)
Free throw shooting has haunted John Calipari his entire career, even before he arrived at Kentucky. When Calipari was at Memphis, the Tigers missed late free throws that would’ve sealed a National Championship victory vs. Kansas in 2008 and since he has been at Kentucky, there has been plenty of points left at the free throw line.
Calipari has done an excellent job at Kentucky but there is definite proof in statistics that with just an average free throw percentage, a couple of more banners would be in the rafters of Rupp Arena.
Now, there has been a couple of times that free throw shooting didn’t make a difference in the outcome of a game. In losses to Wisconsin in 2015 (9-10) and Indiana in 2016 (15-19), Kentucky shot a combined 24-of-29 for 82.7 percent. However, remove the 2012 National Championship season and the 2013 NIT year and there are five tournament losses that free throw shooting was a deciding factor.
In season-ending losses to West Virginia (2010), Connecticut (2011 and 2014), North Carolina (2016), and Kansas State (2018), Kentucky shot a combined 68-of-121 from the free throw line for 56 percent. Those five games were decided by a total of 19 points.
Outside of PJ Washington’s 8-of-20 night from the line on Thursday, the rest of the team shot 15-of-17 from the line. However, those 12 misses are brutal when you look at the box score and it’s unfortunate because Washington was the only reason Kentucky even had a chance to steal a win. The freshman forward led the Wildcats with 18 points and 15 rebounds while playing the entire forty minutes of action.
Sure, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Kevin Knox didn’t have their best nights offensively and 15 UK turnovers led to 24 Kansas State points but if Kentucky would’ve just got to 72.9 percent from the free throw line, they would’ve left with a one-point victory.
That same phrase can be said more than once over the last nine years. That’s what’s frustrating.
2010 Kentucky 66, West Virginia 73 (15-29 for 55.2 percent).
2011 Kentucky 54, Connecticut 55 (4-12 for 33.3 percent).
2014 Kentucky 54, Connecticut 60 (13-24 for 54.2 percent).
2017 Kentucky 73, North Carolina 75 (12-19 for 63.2 percent).
2018 Kentucky 58, Kansas State 61 (23-37 for 62 percent).