It is true that South Dakota State hit a lot of free throws in Friday’s NCAA Tournament win over USC. The Jackrabbits made 22 of 27 shots, just over 81 percent. That will play in March, and it certainly played a role in securing a 62-57 win over the Trojans. It is also true that USC’s Rayah Marshall went just 2 of 7 at the line, a crucial collection of untaken points the Trojans could have used.
Yet, while shooting percentages at the free throw line were important, and while USC’s shooting fouls committed early in the overtime period gave South Dakota State an untimely boost, the larger and more pervasive game-long problem for USC was the inability to get to the foul line.
Marshall got seven free throw attempts due to her size and power near the basket, but the rest of her USC teammates generated only seven as well, for a team total of 14. Five of those free throws were in OT, so the Trojans created only nine foul shots in regulation. That’s just not good enough in a tournament game, or any game against quality opposition.
We all know that USC struggles to score. The Trojans managed just 45 points in regulation. If they had scored 46 in regulation, that would have been enough to win. Not getting free throws when the rest of the offense isn’t working and jump shots aren’t falling has to become a point of emphasis for Lindsay Gottlieb in the coming offseason, heading into fall practice and the 2023-2024 campaign.
Yes, Juju Watkins should help here, but it’s not just about having a guard who gets to the foul line and creates. It’s also about having frontcourt players who can play through contact and outmaneuver opponents to earn free throws.
USC also needs a perimeter shooter who draws defenses to the wings and creates more driving lanes for the point guard and spaces the floor so that frontcourt players can go one-on-one with less help.
All these pieces of the puzzle need to fit better so that the USC offense can more reliably help the defense in 2024.
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