LITTLE ROCK — Without a word, a superb athlete from south Arkansas convinced a chubby teen that free-throw shooting is about rhythm and repetition.

LITTLE ROCK — Without a word, a superb athlete from south Arkansas convinced a chubby teen that free-throw shooting is about rhythm and repetition.

Before the field house opened on the North Little Rock High School campus, basketball was played on a stage in the school auditorium. This night, Hazel Walker and her all-stars beat up on a local men’s team, probably cops or firemen who were athletes at one time. During the needed halftime break, the first woman inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame went to the free throw line, took up her shooting position, right foot slightly in front of the left, and waited for somebody to apply a blindfold.

Her routine was metronome-like and she made 9-of-10.

So, why can’t the best college basketball players in the country do the same thing? The free throw line is 15 feet from the basket and the rim is 10 feet high, just as it was when Walker wowed the crowd. Free means just that. Nobody is between the player and the goal, intimidating or forcing the shooter to do some mid-air improvisation.

Yet, during the third round of the NCAA Tournament:

• North Carolina State’s Richard Howell’s errant three-pointer at the buzzer against Kansas shouldn’t have mattered, but it did.

• North Carolina’s Harrison Barnes’ missed jumper with 6 seconds left in regulation should have eliminated the Tar Heels, but it didn’t.

• Wisconsin’s Jordan Taylor and John Gasser both missed in the final seconds when a field goal would have beaten Syracuse.

Each of those scenarios has a common denominator — they were in play because of missed free throws in the final seconds.

Remove Kentucky’s remarkable 35 of 37 vs. Indiana from the equation and the teams in the other seven games barely shot 70 percent, 167-of-236. That’s sixty-seven points that went wanting. Wisconsin lost by one and missed five free throws; Kansas won by three and clanked nine.

Every team practices free throws with a must-make minimum. Kentucky coach John Calipari joked the other night that his players run line drills for misses, but that he would let them slide for the two they missed vs. Indiana. He did not joke after they missed 14 against Baylor.

So-so free throw shooting goes to poor technique and a preference for shooting threes and dunking when a player is working on his own, knowing free throws do not make TV highlights.

The best free throw shooter in Razorback history was a technician with a self-imposed penalty for failure.

Rickey Medlock, who set a Southwest Conference record with 48 consecutive while at Arkansas, would eye the back of the rim, his left hand almost underneath the ball, and use his legs, something ignored by many shooters today. He learned under his grandfather, Corbet Medlock, a former high school coach in Sharp County who sat on a stool and rolled Prince Albert cigarettes while watching Rickey shoot at a wire hoop nailed onto a garage.

Alone at the Cave City High School, Medlock would not leave until he made 10 straight free throws. If he missed, he would do a line drill and begin again. He led the NCAA in free-throw shooting in 1973-74 with 87 of 95 and made 62-of-66 the following year, but needed four more attempts to qualify for the NCAA title.

Free throws are likely to be critical in the semifinal games on Saturday and there is no excuse for misses. I saw a woman make 9 of 10, blindfolded.

Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is