From the late game yesterday in college basketball action. With a couple of Canadians on the Gonzaga squad, naturally I was rooting for them against UConn. Their loss yesterday was one of those games where a team that has a lead made the only combination of decisions that could have led to the loss.

Now, I know that Pargo, Gonzaga's PG was playing hurt but I'm still not really sure what informed their thinking here at the end of regulation. There certainly were a number of interesting decisions. By themselves, they probably didn't make the difference, but in their totality, they each had their part in the downfall. Here is the last critical sequences of regulation,

I deconstructed the last couple of minutes and came up with the following takeaways in no particular order:

- In your press break, make sure you have a safety. Make sure in your timeouts, you communicate to your players exactly how you will break their press.
- Man defense is always preferred over zone defense on final possessions, especially when defending a 3-point lead.
- Leave at least 1 timeout for the final possession, and make sure you use it in case the other team ties the game.
- Make sure your players are prepared to foul at the end of games to protect a 3-point lead.

Use a Safety in Your Press Break:

I think that no matter what press break formation you use, a fundamental rule I like to use is to always have a safety. Usually it is the inbounder. It would be great to go over the top, but when you're protecting a lead, safer is better. Remember, as the team with the lead, the clock is your friend. Use as much as possible. In 2 cases in the last 2 minutes, the Zags have no safety on the press break. The second instance was even out of a timeout, so their lack of a safety was deliberate,

Why Zones are Bad for End of Games:

I realize that Gonzaga's 2-3 zone defense worked well against UConn earlier in the game. But I strongly believe that a M2M defense with weak defenders will still be superior to a zone defense with strong defenders. In M2M, you will at least be assured that every shot will be contested, and that each defender has a box-out responsibility. In any zone defense, you can guarantee neither. In Gonzaga's 2-3 zone, Price fakes like he's penetrating the gap, draws 2 defenders, then passes to Dyson for the open shot,

Because Dyson is open, it causes 2 defenders to closeout on him. No wonder UConn got the rebound, it was 2 against 1 down low.

It's Why You Have Timeouts:

After the offensive rebound, I would've called my players to foul UConn's AJ Price with the score still 74-71 and 10 seconds left. AJ Price just missed one free throw a minute ago and is less than 50% on the season. But the bigger mistake was not calling a timeout with the score 74-74 after Price's 3-pointer to tie. As far as I could tell, Gonzaga still had a timeout (and if they didn't they should've kept one or not wasted it after one of their botched press breaks) with 5.5 seconds left after Pargo brought the ball to the frontcourt,

Again, why not make the safe play. Call the timeout, talk it over, calm the nerves. Especially when your opponent just shocked you with the game-tying basket. It helps to sit on the bench, get it out of your mind, and focus on your own chance to hit the game-winning shot. Notice, this applied to UConn as well. After the offensive rebound, there was still 10 seconds left, UConn could also call timeout and draw up a new play.


I think we tend to think of coaches as geniuses when they win games like this, Greg Anthony of ESPN hailed Jim Calhoun as such. Though I don't disagree that Coach Calhoun is a great coach, oftentimes in situations like this, it is more about the mistakes that are made on the other side. When you think of last season's NCAA Championship final, as good as Bill Self is, it was more the Memphis Tigers who lost the game as it was the Kansas Jayhawks who won it.

Coaching a basketball team in many ways is like politics. You want to speak boldly but govern cautiously. Motivate your players to overacheive, but make the safe choice during games. Don't go for 2 point converts when the 1 point convert is automatic and will suffice. Don't go for 4th and 1 when you can kick the FG and tie. Don't hit driver when 3-wood will do.

For more winning secrets from the smartest basketball mind alive, look no further than Hubie Brown's 2-pack DVD that has Volumes I and II from his Secrets of Winning Basketball series, definitely worth checking out for any Hubie Brown fan. Discuss your favorite offenses at the X's and O's Basketball Forum with other coaches from around the world.