So it is that many pressure D teams are the very ones whose high scores fallaciously suggest they don't play any defense at all. "The only way to create tempo is with defense," says Durham. "You can't do it with offense. Say Vegas doesn't press. The opponent comes down and takes 40 seconds to shoot. Vegas goes the other way and takes five. The opponent comes back and takes 40 again. That's not creating tempo."
A deliberate team that encounters pressure can find it very difficult to hold its pace, to continually downshift and move the ball around. During its tournament game with Ohio State last season, slow-paced Kentucky trailed the pressing Buckeyes by only 42-40 at the half, but Ohio State was in control. "I liked where we were." says Williams. "It was very important we got the score in the 80's. I didn't want to play a 60-point game with Kentucky." The Wildcats, who averaged 67.4 points per game, went on to score 77—and lose by 14. Care to guess what Kentucky coach Eddie Sutton said afterward? "We didn't control the tempo."
"We've got to control the tempo" has become the "It's not the heat, it's the humidity" of college coaching clich�s. But a fact can't be overstated. When a team isn't in its cadence, says Chiesa, "you force its secondary players to make the play instead of its primary players. Pressure Syracuse and suddenly it's a forward who's going to the basket, not Sherman Douglas. Syracuse is still great. Syracuse is still great. But it's not great the way it's used to being great."
In 1986-87, Providence was the consummate tempo-busting team. Basketball normally consists of a succession of human convergences on the basket and ensuing retreats to play defense. But the lunatic Friars turned the flow of the game completely around, peppering the basket with accurate three-pointers from afar and then rushing to the baseline to apply the pressure. "They had an attitude on that team." says Iowa coach Tom Davis. "Pressure defense gave them a chance to take advantage of those intangibles."
There was logic to the Friars' scheme too, and they proved it in their 103-82 Southeast Regional semifinal victory over Alabama. Centerless Providence faced Derrick McKey, one of the nation's best postmen, and a splendidly balanced Crimson Tide team. The Friars couldn't sag in on McKey, because Jim Farmer, James Jackson and Mark Gottfried would let loose from three-point country; they couldn't go out on Farmer, Jackson and Gottfried lest those three dump the ball into McKey for a sure two. So Providence pressed, furiously. The ' Bama gunners got their shots, but hurriedly, in transition, and without McKey to follow them up. The Friars got their shots, but as they liked them, either in transition or outside the circle. McKey finished with six shots and a lot of minutes wasted in the horse latitudes between the foul lines.
The less-talented team clearly won, and intensity and enthusiasm had a lot to do with it. But pressure D demands the same effort from talented teams, too. Says UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian, "When we're behind, our kids feel all they have to do is up their intensity level and concentration, and they'll end up winning. That's why, over the last five years, we've never lost to Johnny Junior High, never been upset by a team we should have blown out."
Other reasons why full-court pressure is making more and more sense:
?New rules dovetail with it. A three-point attempt late in the game is tougher to hit when the shooter is bushed from the pressure. "You have to extend your defense anyway with the three-point goal," says Penn coach Tom Schneider. "Why not go all the way?" Moreover, the 45-second clock generates additional possessions. "You just can't go down and sit in one defense anymore," says Miami ( Fla.) coach Bill Foster.
?History is on its side. Quiz: Which of the following centers never won an NCAA title? And which of the following centers never played in a full-court-pressure system? a) Bill Walton, b) Lew Alcindor, c) Patrick Ewing, d) Ralph Sampson. Hint: The answer to both questions is the same—and we're talking pressure (d) here. Says Williams, "The coach who gets a great center and says, 'I'm not going to press because I've got a big guy,' is crazy."
?It's fun for everyone but the officials. More people run, play and score, and score more often. "Too many coaches won't play the game." says Oklahoma coach Billy Tubbs. "I won't name names, but you see them on TV a lot. The camera focuses on them because their teams aren't doing anything worth focusing on."