Hannah Simental ranks No. 1 in Big Sky, top six in nation for free throw shooting

Junior Hannah Simental practiced in the gym at 6:30 a.m. Saturday before her teammates, coaches and most of the athletic staff arrived for the Montana State game.

Simental ranks No. 6 in the nation and No. 1 in the Big Sky for free throw percentage (92.6%).

She actually dropped from No. 2 after the Bears’ win at Weber State on Monday, where she uncharacteristically missed three.

Prior to the team’s matchup, Simental hadn’t missed a free throw since New Year’s Eve and had only missed four total. Still, she contributed 11 of her 16 points against Weber from the stripe.

University of Northern Colorado coach Kristen Mattio said this weekend the ranking shows Simental’s work ethic.

“She’s just in the gym all the time. She has a great feel for her shot and, honestly, if we could get her more looks, I think she would be scoring way more points, too,” Mattio said. “But, she has everybody’s best defenders chasing her around every single night, and rightfully so, because she shoots the ball very efficiently and at a high percentage.”

When Simental gets to the foul line, the team expects her to hit all of them. It almost always guarantees points. Mattio said Simental’s success all comes down to being in the gym daily, often multiple times per day, and perfecting her game.

Simental came to UNC out of Pueblo West High School in the 2020-21 season under Jenny Huth, who said the same thing in December 2020.

Huth, now an assistant at Oregon State, spoke highly of her then-freshman.

“I don’t have to coach her attitude, effort or energy ever. That makes the game a little bit simpler as a coach. That’s really been big,” Huth said. “Her effort is high in practice. She knows the plays and holds others accountable.”

Part of UNC’s game plan is to get inside the paint. It wants to play aggressively and have her draw contact. That provides more free throws and layup opportunities.

“At the Division I level, what makes good players good and great players great is the ability to create separation,” Mattio said after the loss to Northern Arizona. “You can see that not a lot of people are leaving Hannah. They’re right there on her, you know, every single night. Her task is tough, and we’ve got to figure out how to help make it easier.”

In addition to her national ranking, the junior from Pueblo ranks No. 5 in the league for total free throws made and No. 6 for attempts.

When Simental isn’t at the line, she continues to be a strong competitor for the Bears in other areas. She can hit the 3, make mid-range jumpers — which are often some of the hardest shots for players to make consistently — and lay it in.

She ranks No. 4 in the Big Sky for 3-point percentage (40.3) and averages 14.7 points per game.

Simental earned All-Big Sky honors last season for her offensive performance, making 55 of 58 free throws.

Simental was named to the All-Big Sky second team for her offensive efficiency. She averaged 14.4 points per game in the regular season and hit 3-pointers at a clip of 41.3% to lead the Big Sky and finish No. 23 in the nation for 3-point field goal percentage.

Additionally, the sophomore from Pueblo hit key free throws in multiple games to help the Bears pick up several wins.

Simental said she doesn’t really pay attention to how much she’s scoring on any given day, but she always wants to win and be a good example.

“(My goal is) just helping everybody on the core being that vocal leader or trying to get everybody together and stay locked in,” she said. “That’s what I’m going to try and keep doing.”

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