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Free throws crucial to Minutewomen’s success.

In the game of basketball, sometimes free throws are overlooked.

That has not been the case for Massachusetts women’s basketball team lately, which now owns the best free throw percentage in the Atlantic 10, at 78.9 percent.

Leading the way for the Minutewomen at the line is sophomore forward Kristina Danella, who has not missed a free throw in her last 27 opportunities.

“She’s just a tremendous shooter,” UMass coach Marnie Dacko said. “I’m just happy that she’s getting fouled.”

Last Friday against Rice, Danella led all scorers with 21 points (12 free throws). Her perfect free throw percentage matched a program single game record, last set by Melissa Gurile who made all 15 shots against Providence in 1993. UMass finished the game hitting 22-of-23 from the charity stripe (95.7 percent), the best mark of any team in the A-10 this season.

“It’s huge,” Dacko said. “So much of our offense is dictated by getting to the hoop and getting fouled. “It’s not good if we get to the bucket, get fouled and don’t hit free throws.”

The Minutewomen rely on their post players to get inside and get to the basket, increasing their chances of getting fouled along the way. Although free throws are a large part of UMass’ game, it would be impractical to spend a lot of time on it during practice.

“Right now I’m just focused on players getting to the line and making shots,” she said. “Our short term goals are dictated game by game. We definitely want to outrebound opponents and get to the foul line. Most of our emphasis is on defense and how it should create our offense. We don’t put a lot of emphasis on free throw shooting because when our players get to the line they know they have to make the shots.”

Right now, Danella ranks fourth in the A-10 with an 89.4 percent free throw percentage. Her streak of 27 straight free-throws is the longest by a Minutewomen since Kathy Coyner converted 31 straight in 1998.

“I want more of our post players getting to the bucket and getting fouled more so they can get to the line,” Dacko said. “I just hope [Danella] is contagious so everyone else can step up to the line and knock them down like she does.”

The best example of Danella’s timely shooting came in the season opener against Boston University. She went to the line after getting fouled from 3-point range with 17 seconds in the game and tied the game. UMass eventually won, 79-73.

Free throw shooting comes down to the individual player. It is the most independent aspect of the team sport. For the most part, Dacko’s players are on their own when it comes to foul shooting.

“The kids know what they have to do,” Dacko said. “It’s such a mental preparation and they have to get in their own routine. What we preach is that [practicing free throws] is up to them. If kids are having problems with it then we’ll force their hand and have them practice it a little more but for the most part, they work a lot on it themselves.”

Steve Levine can be reached at slevine@student.umass.edu.

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