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Originally published Monday, January 26, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Practice drill helps UW improve its free-throw shooting

As the Washington Huskies have climbed back to the top of the Pac-10 standings this season, they've gotten a big assist from "the ladder." That's the name of a free-throw drill that has concluded every Huskies practice this season, and as the season has progressed, players and coaches have increasingly credited it with aiding in Washington's improvement at the free-throw line.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Thursday

UW @ Arizona, 5:30 p.m., FSN

As the Washington Huskies have climbed back to the top of the Pac-10 standings this season, they've gotten a big assist from "the ladder."

That's the name of a free-throw drill that has concluded every Huskies practice this season. And as the season has progressed, players and coaches have increasingly credited it with aiding in Washington's improvement at the free-throw line.

The Huskies infamously placed last in the nation a year ago in free-throw shooting at 58.6 percent — ranking 328th out of 328 teams — as big a reason as any for a disappointing 16-17 record.

Saturday, however, free-throw shooting proved vital as the Huskies beat UCLA 86-75 at home to move into sole possession of first place in the Pac-10 at 6-1, and 15-4 overall — a win that could get UW into the Top 25, which will be announced today.

In that game, UW made 36 of 43 from the line, 83.7 percent, to UCLA's 10 of 15, the third straight game the Huskies have shot 80 percent or better. That improved the team's percentage to 67 and to 74 in Pac-10 play.

And afterward, guard Justin Dentmon, who was 10 for 10 from the line against UCLA and 21 for 21 for the weekend, was among those who cited "the ladder" as a key contributor.

"It's definitely helped us a lot," he said.

At the end of every practice, all 13 players gather in a circle around the free-throw line, then take turns shooting free throws, each getting two at a time — either shooting a one-and-one, or a two-shot foul depending on the day (the team alternates by day.)

The drill isn't complete until the players combine to make 19 of 26 on days when the situation is a one-and-one, or 20 out of 26 on days when it's a two-shot situation. The totals are kept on a scoreboard, and it's referred to as "climbing the ladder" for the team to get to its requirement to pass the drill.

Players who miss head to the sideline for extra conditioning.

"Nobody wants to miss because nobody wants to run," Dentmon said.

Some days, the team has needed as many as 45 minutes to complete the ladder, switching ends of the court with each failure.

Washington coach Lorenzo Romar instituted the drill at the beginning of the season at the urging of assistant coach Jim Shaw, who said he saw it work during five years as an assistant at Oklahoma, when he said the Sooners annually led the Big 12 in free-throw shooting.

Shaw came to UW in 2004. But his first three years as an assistant with the Huskies, the team shot 72 percent or better from the line, so there was no need for change.

And Shaw said the drill requires a seasonlong investment to really work, so it wasn't something he thought could be started in the middle of the year.

But feeling the need to try something, Romar agreed to do it this season. At first, the requirements to complete the drill were 17 of 26 for one-and-ones, and 18 of 26 for two-shot fouls. The requirements gradually increase as the season progresses and the team, in theory, gets better at free-throw shooting.

Romar said there are also practical reasons UW has improved. A big one is the addition of freshman guard Isaiah Thomas, who has taken the most free throws and has always been a good shooter, making 73 percent this year. And Dentmon is having a better year in every area and is up to 78 percent this season after falling to 70 percent last year.

But Romar has also become a believer in the ladder.

"Obviously, I think it's helped us," he said.

Just another reason UW has stepped into the Pac-10's elite.

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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