With 10 seconds left and her team up by three points, Hallie Thome stepped up to the free-throw line. She had been in a similar situation before. In December, she missed both of her free throws as the Wolverines lost to Eastern Michigan in heartbreaking fashion.
But in last Saturday’s matchup against Penn State, the freshman center sank both of her foul shots with ease. Instead of her shots rimming out, her scores from the charity stripe were proverbial daggers into any hope the Nittany Lions had for a comeback.
The stark contrast between the two games, nearly two months apart, display how Thome has not just improved her free throw shooting, but her confidence as well. Thome said the most improved facet of her game has been her performance from the foul line. After a rough start to the season, Thome has worked up to 65 percent from the charity stripe. It isn’t a stellar number, but it’s a sign of her growth.
The confidence she has gained since the beginning of the season has shown in her results. Against Penn State, she shot 4-for-6 from the line, but the last two proved to be most important, as she looked anything but tentative after being fouled.
“I’m not worrying when I go up to the line (anymore), just being calm and collected,” Thome said.
After missed free throws doomed the Wolverines in three-straight late-game losses to Eastern Michigan, Purdue and Indiana, Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico worked with the team on free throws to replace the feeling of pressure with confidence. Both the team as a whole and individuals on their own practiced shooting from the line. Because of the improvement, the Wolverines haven’t let games slip away late when they had a chance to secure the win since the overtime loss to Indiana.
“Coming into the Big Ten with games on the line, you have to make two free throws to win it,” Barnes Arico said. “That’s tough. That’s tough for anybody, especially a freshman.”
Barnes Arico has been telling Thome to take her time and not think about shooting it so much. The advice has spread out to the rest of the team, as Michigan has been able to beat Iowa, Minnesota and Penn State (twice) because of a relaxed approach to the nerve-wracking nature of a wide-open shot with the game on the line and all eyes on you. Tuesday against Northwestern, the Wolverines went 7-for-8 from the free-throw line to complete a hard-fought 70-65 victory, and Thome went 6-for-7 in the winning effort.
The experience Thome has had in her freshman season is invaluable. As Barnes Arico can attest, her improvement has just begun.
“(Thome) has a great touch, and part of it is being able to be in those situations and handle the pressure,” Barnes Arico said. “She’s definitely gotten better at handling that. It’s great for her to be in those positions as much as possible and to have the confidence that she can make them.”