Decisions, decisions: These knotty end-of-game scenarios keep tournament coaches awake at night
Certain strategies for down-to-the-wire games seem to arise repeatedly in postseason play. We canvassed a sampling of coaches, all with considerable tournament experience, to try to settle once and for all what to do when:
1 -- You're on defense with a three-point lead in the final 10 seconds. Do you send the other team to the free throw line for two shots rather than let it launch a potential game-tying three?
This is the conundrum that produced the broadest disagreement. "We're not fouling," says Alabama coach Mark Gottfried. "As I'm reaching to foul you, you're going to put the ball in the air and turn it into a [potential] three-pointer. I'm going to guard you and make you make a tough shot to beat me." Says Mississippi State's Rick Stansbury, "I foul every time." Syracuse's Jim Boeheim, Connecticut's Jim Calhoun and Oklahoma's Kelvin Sampson are in the don't-foul camp. Arizona's Lute Olson is, too, generally, while North Carolina's Roy Williams and Florida's Billy Donovan both say foul away.
CONSENSUS: Don't foul.
2 -- You're up a point in the final two seconds, and your opponent must inbound from underneath his own basket. Do you put a defender on the baseline to harass the passer or drop him back to help stop a long pass from being completed?
After Grant Hill's uncontested 75-foot pass to Christian Laettner in the last ticks of Duke's 1992 East Regional final defeat of Kentucky, the consensus seemed to swing to the smother-the-passer side. But Gottfried, Boeheim and Williams disagree: "I'd prefer five against your four," says Gottfried, referring to the defensive thicket downcourt from the passer. To Donovan it depends: If the inbounder can run the baseline, Donovan will use a defender to harass him; otherwise he sends that man back as a free safety.
3 -- You're down a point with 10 seconds to play and have just grabbed a defensive rebound. Do you call timeout to set something up or just let your guys play?
Most coaches go with the flow unless they see something ominous--their floor leader denied the ball; the defense back and established; a critical scorer on the bench who needs to get back in the game. Olson notes the downside risk of allowing the defense time to regroup and plot strategy: "If you call a timeout, now does the other team come out in a zone or in a man?" Adds Sampson, "Sometimes the broken play is the best play."