They say the best things in life are free: free parking, free food, free throws.
The first two should be fairly attainable at Fresno State’s women’s basketball game against Utah State on Saturday.
Save Mart Center offers free parking to everyone and your odds of winning a free Me-N-Eds pizza are nice among the small crowd.
However, the charity stripe has not been as giving to the Bulldogs this season.
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The Bulldogs are 10-2 in games in which they make more free throws than their opponent, but 1-6 when making equal or fewer shots from the line.
Fresno State (11-8, 4-4) ranks second-to-last in the Mountain West in free-throw shooting, making just 63.9 percent (188 for 294) from the line.
That’s 106 possible points missed that has cost the Bulldogs multiple games (see Cal State Northridge, UC Santa Barbara and Boise State).
It’s been a constant struggle for Fresno State, which before the season set a goal to finish as the best free-throw shooting team in program history. The record of 74.2 percent (454 for 612) is held by the 1984-85 Bulldogs.
It’s all mental. Everyone can physically make a free throw easily. Everyone has a good shot on this team to make it. But when it comes to free throws, it is what you make of it. If you think it’s such a big deal, then it’s going to be a big deal and you’re not going to make it.
Fresno State point guard Candice White
“I think now it’s become more of a mental issue than actually a physical issue,” lead assistant Mandi Carver said at Thursday’s practice. Head coach Jaime White was out of town recruiting.
“We’ve just been trying to get them a lot of confidence,” Carver added. “Make sure they’re comfortable and get them lots of reps and try to take the pressure and stress of that moment away from them. I think it was maybe too much of an emphasis since it was a team goal and we set that bar early in August. So we’ve just kind of stepped away and said ‘as long as you’re comfortable with your shot, and it goes in, great.’ ”
Junior center Bego Faz Davalos has struggled the most. The 6-foot-3 Mexico native has more trips to the line than anyone on the team, which makes sense for the leading scorer at 14.4 points per game, but she has converted just 50.6 percent of her free throws this season (43 for 85) – down from 64.6 (31 for 48) as a freshman and 58.6 (75 for 128) as a sophomore.
But there’s improvement among the rest of the lineup.
In last week’s comeback win against Nevada, redshirt sophomore shooting guard Tory Jacobs hit 6 of 6 from the line en route to a career-high 21 points. She’s made 23 for 31 this season for a 74.2 percent clip.
Free throws are very important, and it’s to the point where we shoot them every day. You get 50 in practice and then you have to find your own time in the gym to shoot.
Fresno State shooting guard Tory Jacobs
Sophomore Candice White leads the team at 86.0 percent (49 for 57), which ranks third in the conference. She channels her confidence from her prep days at Modesto Christian, where she helped the Crusaders win back-to-back Sac-Joaquin Section titles.
Even so, she said conviction is only half of the equation as the Bulldogs aim to make a run for the postseason.
“Confidence is nice, but the key for this team is consistency,” White said. “I don’t want to use the excuse that we’re too young, because we’ve already been experienced for half a season. I think we just need to stay consistent – not just individually, but as a team.
“I think we’re getting there slowly. Slowly, but surely.”
VS. UTAH STATE
- Saturday: 2 p.m. at Save Mart Center
- Records: Bulldogs 11-8, 4-4 Mountain West; Aggies 9-10, 2-6
- Series/last meeting: Fresno State leads 17-2. Bulldogs won 55-47 in MW Tournament quarterfinals on March 8, 2016.
- Webcast/radio: Mountain West Network (themw.com)/KFPT AM (790)