Two years ago, Parkers Chapel lost in the district tournament to Woodlawn on a last-second shot. The Lady Trojans contributed to their own demise, missing several free throws in the fourth quarter.
Ali Looney, a sophomore at the time, missed her fair share from the line and then couldn’t convert on a driving lay-up at the buzzer over a pair of taller defenders.
Two years later, now a 5-foot-2 senior, Looney was the player PC looked to in the fourth quarter to make plays and nail down games at the free throw line. In the regional tournament, she hit 24-of-27 at the line, including 15-of-17 in the fourth quarter of three close victories.
Her season free throw percentage of 75.5 percent (108-143) looked a lot better than the 59 percent she shot as a sophomore. When practicing her foul shooting, Looney remembered the free throws she missed as a sophomore to end the season.
“Yes, it definitely motivated me to get better because I knew that year how good we could be,” she said. “This year, I had a lot more confidence because I had practiced a lot more and I was more experienced with being put in end of game free throw scenarios. It was really important for me to have confidence in my free throws because I liked to drive to the basket a lot and I knew more times than not that I would probably get fouled. I developed confidence in myself by just practicing free throws like it’s a game and shooting them a lot more.”
Looney led the Lady Trojans with 14.2 points per game. She shot 32.7 percent from 3-point range and actually made more free throws than any of her teammates attempted.
“Her shooting percentage has gone up tremendously. That shooting percentage went up in all three areas,” said PC coach Justin Welch, who said he expected the diminutive 10th grader to be the team’s top scorer as a senior.
“I actually anticipated it. I always had that ‘if’ factor in the back of my head. As a basketball coach, you always hope one of your girls that has the potential to be your leading scorer is bigger. That’s always your hope,” said Welch. “It makes things a lot easier. There was always the ‘if she hits that growth spurt.’ She never did but she never used that as an excuse. She modified her game to her strengths. You spoke about the Eurostep. The finishing – if you look back at film of Ali in the 10th grade, the 11th grade and then now as a senior, you will see that her game evolved. As a sophomore, she was fearless, and she would go in there and she would get clobbered. She had a lot of shots blocked. Then all of a sudden, you’d see her start to make contact with that shot blocker and then go up. That was the next progression. And then she added the Eurostep around the people who wanted to take charges. I thought it was a great evolution of her game as she got older. That was just hard work, getting into the gym every chance she could to fine tune her craft.”
Looney, despite her size, contributed all over the court in every category for the Lady Trojans. She usually defended the opposing team’s top perimeter scorer, averaged 2.9 steals and 2.4 assists.
“The best way I could define it is her grit,” said Welch. “I read body language a lot as a coach. You can tell if they have that confidence, that demeanor. You almost see Ali just lock in on something. She gets this look in her eyes. I’ve only coached a couple of players like that in my career. She just locks in on it and she goes to work. She figures things out. Lots of it is her determination but a lot of it is her basketball IQ, just knowing the game of basketball.
“That will to win – she just has it. She has the ‘it’ factor.”