Sharp shooters: As the men's game focuses on dunking, women are shooting free throws better

Published: Monday, Feb. 13 2012 8:00 p.m. MST

BYU guard Ashley Garfield shoots a free throw against Gonzaga last week. She is shooting 76.9 percent this year.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — No one would ever suggest that women are better basketball players than men. Men are stronger and faster, they jump higher, they are more athletic and physically more talented than women.

That's just the way it is.

But there is one aspect of basketball where women seem to have an edge over men.

Free-throw shooting.

That's right, women are slightly better than men when it comes to shooting from 15 feet from the basket.

In Utah, among the six universities playing Division I basketball, four women's teams are superior to the men.

If you look at the national statistics this year, there are four women's teams shooting above 80 percent compared to just one for the men — our own Weber State team.

There are 28 women's teams shooting above 75 percent compared to 26 men's teams. 134 women's teams are shooting 70 percent or better compared to 131 men's teams.

At the bottom, women also have a slight edge with just 9 teams shooting under 60 percent compared to 25 men's teams

The figures aren't much different, but the women appear to have a slight edge (note: the NCAA couldn't provide overall men's and women's numbers for this season).

It's no surprise to Jeff Judkins, who should know as much as anyone about men's and women's college basketball. After being a star player for the University of Utah, he played in the NBA for five years and was an assistant coach at Utah for 10 years before spending the past decade coaching women's college basketball at BYU.

When asked about the difference between men and women at the free-throw line, he didn't hesitate.

"I would say on the average women are better foul shooters than men," Judkins said.

He reeled off several reasons why — more practice, smaller ball size, fewer pressure situations, but he sees women as superior on the average.

"The best men shoot a higher percentage in the high 80s or 90s," he said. "But usually, the overall team is better with the women."

Judkins said when he first got into women's coaching, he ran into Geno Auriemma, the women's coach at Connecticut, who has won seven national titles and has nearly 800 career victories.

Auriemma had one piece of advice for Judkins — don't foul too much.

"He said that you can't foul as much as in the men's game, because the women make them," Judkins said. "I've really taken that to heart because girls do make foul shots at a higher percentage in a game. They have way more turnovers but shoot better at the foul line."

The best free-throw shooter to ever come out of the state was Utah Valley's Ryan Toolson, who was an incredible 94.4 percent from the line over three years (2006-09), just behind the NCAA career leader Blake Ahearn of Missouri State (94.6 percent).

But the second-best ever was Utah's Morgan Warburton (2005-09), who knocked down 88.3 percent of her foul tries in four years, just ahead of BYU's Jimmer Fredette (88.2).

Now helping at Utah as a video coordinator after two years playing in Europe, Warburton said practice, practice and more practice was the key to her success.

She said she used to shoot hundreds of free throws as a kid and competed in free-throw competitions every year, winning a national title when she was 12 years old.

Warburton isn't sure why women are as good or better free-throw shooters than men on the whole, except to say, "I think it might be the attention to detail that women have to have in the whole game because they're not as athletic and not as gifted as men. So they have to put in extra time and effort."

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