There were times during last season's basketball campaign that when Georgia players went to the free throw line, the fans in the stands at Stegeman Coliseum would close their eyes.
At times, it wasn't pretty.
Free-throw shooting was not exactly a team strength for Georgia which shot a mere 63.8 percent from the charity stripe, a number that put the Bulldogs next to last in the SEC.
Under first-year coach Mark Fox, that statistic has taken an upward turn.
Heading into Wednesday night's SEC home opener against Ole Miss (7 p.m.), the Bulldogs are leading the conference in free throw shooting hitting 72.1 percent of their attempts (222 for 308).
"It's a credit to the fact we practice," said point guard Dustin Ware, who is shooting 84 percent from the line. "The coaches have broken down everybody's technique. They tweak little things, even if you're a good free throw shooter because you can always improve. It's paying off."
But according to Fox, it took a relapse in a 60-57 loss to Wofford to convince some of his players that they need to pay closer attention to that important aspect of their game.
Against the Terriers, the Bulldogs made just 11 of their 20 shots and wound up losing by three as opposed to last week's 73-66 victory over No. 20 Georgia Tech when Georgia made 24-of-29 shots to ruin any changes the Yellow Jackets might have had to pull out the win.
"I tell you where it helps, late in the game and they have to foul you, you ought to go the free throw line with some confidence. I think it does give us some confidence," Fox said. "The free throw line has been an advantage for us most of the year. It cost us that one game early and we talked a great deal about that and we've pretty consistent for the most part ever since."
Being No. 1 in the league is a big point of pride for sophomore Trey Thompkins, who said the team's transformation at the line has not come by accident.
"Practicing free throws is one of the most important components of the game," he said. "Games come down to free throws all the time and he wants us to be prepared for any aspect that comes at us. It's definitely something I think he take a lot of pride in."
Fox said it varies as to how much time his players spend in practice on their free throw shooting.
Most of the work his team put in was done prior to preseason drills.
"(Monday) we spent 40 seconds, maybe two minutes; some days we might spend 10," Fox said. "That's how we do it certain days, but we spend a lot of time in the fall trying to teach them the correct way to shoot the ball, help their routine at the free throw line and we invested a lot of time in the fall of how to do that and know we're reaping the benefits."
Ole Miss at Georgia
WHERE: Stegeman Coliseum
WHEN: Wednesday, 7 p.m.
RECORDS: Georgia 8-6, 0-1; Ole Miss 12-3, 0-1
TV: SEC Network, ESPN Full Court
RADIO: Georgia Bulldog Radio Network
The Ole Miss game represents Georgia's third straight time facing a Top 25 opponent, the first time that's happened since January of 2007.
Georgia owns a 6-game winning streak at Stegeman Coliseum, its longest since a 7-game streak that spanned the 2007-08 seasons.
For the second straight game, Trey Thomp-kins will reunite with a teammate from the U.S. U19 team that won a world championship last summer in New Zealand. The Rebels' Terrico White, as well as Kentucky's Darius Miller, joined Thompkins on that American squad.
Thompkins is coming off a 17-point, 13-reČbound effort against Kentucky last Saturday, his fifth double-double of the season and the ninth of his young career. His current rebounding average of 8.4 per game is the highest mark by a Bulldog since Anthony Evans in the 2000 season (8.7/game).
. Fox turned 41 years old today. At press time, there was no confirČmation whether or not Fox would continue his long-held tradition of dunking on his birthday.
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