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Final Four Preview :: Better Make Those Free Throws!

Villanova’s run into the Final Four past top-ranked Pittsburgh owes itself as much to their dead-eye free throw shooting, as to the last second basket that clinched it.

Villanova beat Pittsburgh 78-76 to get to this weekend’s Final Four with a last second basket by guard Scottie Reynolds. But the game would not have been close had Villanova not made an amazing 22 out of 23 (or 96%) of their free throws. Villanova players hit their first 21 from the stripe, one off the NCAA record.

Pittsburgh made 21 of 29 (or about 72%), and could have used every one of those misses at the end. Villanova only had the chance to win on the last second buzzer beater because they had been so accurate all day at the line.

Last year, head coach John Calipari dismissed any idea that the free throw troubles of his University of Memphis Tigers would have any affect on their chances of winning the title. Memphis shot just 62% from the free throw line during the season and no team had ever won an NCAA title shooting that poorly.

Calipari told ESPN that his team would “make them when they count.” The coach insisted that anybody dismissing the Tigers chances based on poor free throw shooting was mistaken. As Calipari steps into one of the premier jobs in all of coaching at the University of Kentucky, those words still haunt him.

Up nine points with fewer than three minutes to go in the 2008 NCAA championship final, Calipari’s charges had the chance to salt the game away if they could make free throws. But two of Calipari’s best players, including future first overall pick Derrick Rose, combined to brick four out of five free throws in the final minute; missing when they counted the most.

Sensing the door was now open, the Kansas Jayhawks kicked it in on Mario Chalmers game tying, three-point buzzer beater. That shot forced a now nervous Memphis team to restart at level pegging when it was clear their hearts had been broken. Kansas won the overtime convincingly.

Villanova needs to continue their recent run at the line to succeed on their impending trip to Detroit for the Final Four, and to avoid a fate similar to last year’s title runner-up.

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