"The out-of-bounds man passed to a guard, then moved into the lane for a return pass. One deep man cut back to meet the ball while the other guard cut upcourt. The player with the ball then had the option of passing to the deep man coming back or the guard heading upcourt."
Theoretically, this causes the pressure defense to spread, and when it does it is licked.
Howie Dallmar of Stanford is probably more familiar with the UCLA press than most coaches, because he has to face it twice a season in the AAWU. "The offensive problems are twofold," he says. "First, teams have to organize for the throw-in, and then they have to regroup to take the ball upcourt. Some teams, on the initial pass, like to have the guard throw upcourt to either forward. But they must be very careful, because the zone press can quickly adjust to 2-2-1, with both defensive forwards rotating to cover the long pass.
"Others like to flood an area to overload the zone. But once the ball is in, you face another problem—bringing it from back court to front court through the meat grinder. For this you can use a 3-2 attack, with the two guards and your most active forward bringing up the ball, or the more standard 2-3. In either case, the idea is to pass through the zone with a minimum amount of dribbling."
Kansas State's Tex Winter, on the other hand, does not believe in setting up definite play patterns against a press. "The defense can too easily size them up and block the passing lanes," he claims. "If you can execute the skills of the game while moving fast you are difficult to press successfully. What I want to do is outpressure the pressure. A fast-breaking team is best suited for this. I want fast passes rather than a dribble, but if no pass is open, then I like a quick dribble to escape a possible double-team trap.
"I tell my center and forwards to keep the pressure on their defensive men by continuously working behind them toward the offensive basket. But if they see a guard in trouble, they must be alert to come back and help out, the forward on the ball side first. He keeps coming until he gets a pass or is within 15 feet of the ball and has not received a pass. Then he should reverse quickly and head upcourt fast for a possible long pass over the heads of the defenders." A few of these for baskets, Winter figures, will soon discourage any press.
"My theory," says Michigan's Strack, "is to run with the ball, and despite what happened to us in the UCLA game last season I still think the zone press is vulnerable to quick basketball. What we tried to do against UCLA was to get the ball to our strongest man, Cazzie Russell, and have Bill Buntin go to mid-court and hook back to help." (Interestingly enough, many press advocates believe it works best of all against a team with a star like Cazzie Russell. Says Harry Lancaster, Adolph Rupp's astute assistant at Kentucky, "A Russell will take the zone press as a challenge and try to beat it singlehanded, even if he has to try to dribble through it. This is the worst thing to use against the press. We want to hold the dribble to a minimum. But a guy like Russell may try to go all the way with it. A poorer player, with less confidence, will be afraid of getting trapped by the zone press. He won't want to handle the ball and will get rid of it quickly. That's the thing to do.")
One thing that has contributed to the recent success of pressing defenses, says Providence's Joe Mullaney, is the lack of good ball handlers in the game today. "A press takes advantage of this lack," he adds. "Some teams have one, or maybe two, ball handlers, but they must get rid of the ball sometime and eventually the weak men on your team have to touch it. That's when you're in trouble. You just can't bury a couple of bad ball handlers against a zone press." (One beneficial result of the trend to presses may be a return to thorough grounding in ball-handling fundamentals by coaches.)
A man-to-man press is really no problem, says Mullaney, because "any kid who can put the ball on the ground will easily beat it. Everybody just clears out to let him operate one-on-one. But, regardless of the type of press we have to face, we teach our players one theory for attacking it. There are no set patterns, because zones, even presses, bend so much that a player must be flexible enough to adjust quickly to any pattern. We want to split the defensive men, always giving them the problem of moving to us. Also we want to spread the defense and then get to open areas with the ball. The first receiver should be our best ball-handling guard, and if he is a good one he will escape the first double-team in backcourt. After that he heads upcourt on one side, almost inviting another double-team, with the other guard trailing on the other side at about a 45� angle. If the first man finds himself one-on-one, he tries to beat his opponent on the dribble. If he is shut off by a double-team, he tries to shoot the gap between it with a pass, or passes off to his trailer, who is in the only open area." But, admits Mullaney, this can only work when you have the ball handlers.
Iowa's Miller is sold on the aggressive approach. "To combat attack, you must use more attack," he says. "But it does not have to be reckless. It can be careful, though not cautious, because caution implies fear, and fear is fatal to any offense. I don't think it matters too much what kind of specific offense you use against a zone press. The best way to attack it is with a passing game. When you dribble the ball, the defense simply moves with it and the defense's form remains intact. Coach Phog Allen's theory is as sound now as it was in the 1920s, and I subscribe to it: 'Pass the ball to a man in the open and then move to a new position yourself.' "