Michigan State’s Miles Bridges, Kenny Goins and Nick Ward all authored rim-shaking, replay-worthy dunks in the first half Friday in Honolulu against Arizona.
You were almost waiting for someone to grab the ball off the head of MSU coach Tom Izzo, do a double-reverse, between-the-legs dunk to win a new car or something.
The TV people loved those dunks.
But no one said much about Chance Comanche, Kobi Simmons and Lauri Markkanen off-setting those first-half dunks with follow-up, almost boring, free throws.
They all counted the same.
By game’s end, the Spartans out-dunked Arizona 4-1 but those numbers were insignificant. The numbers that mattered were these: Arizona made 20 free throws, MSU five.
Free throws made are Sean Miller’s favorite statistic, followed closely by free throws attempted. That’s how Arizona beat Michigan State on Friday.
In the last three seasons, Arizona has attempted 2,707 foul shots; its opponents 2,032. That margin is the equivalent of 337 jump shots, but the difference is that Arizona averages 70 percent on foul shots and 47 percent on jump shots.
Miller plays the percentages, as did Lute Olson, whose teams paraded to the foul line year after year, an edge that Pac-12 opponents rarely foiled.
Get this: Arizona finished the disappointing 2015-16 season by losing four of its final seven games. What happened? More than anything, it was Arizona’s inability to draw fouls and shoot free throws at its normal frequency.
In those losses to Colorado, Utah, Oregon and Wichita State, Arizona was out-shot at the foul line 87 to 67. Over the rest of the season, in which the Wildcats went 25-5, the get-to-the-line strategy worked: Arizona out-shot its opponents 796 to 519 from the foul line in that 25-5 stretch.
One thing you might have forgotten about Arizona’s triumph at the 1997 Final Four: the Wildcats made 45 free throws in those wins over North Carolina and Kentucky, which combined for 17.
Now, as Miller begins the school’s Cupcake Campaign, a long series of McKale Center games against teams nicknamed Roadrunners, Antelopes and Pioneers, the real suspense is whether Allonzo Trier is allowed to play.
I suspect Trier’s eligibility will be determined early this week.