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To Foul or Not to Foul? A Question Many Basketball Coaches Ask at the End of a Game.

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In the second round of the 2011 NCAA Championship Tournament, the University of Arizona made a free throw to take a three point lead over the University of Memphis with 7.5 seconds left in the game. The television play-by-play announcer immediately declared that it was Arizona coach Sean Miller's philosophy to foul in this type of situation if there was between 4 and 11 seconds left on the clock. In such situations Miller would rather let his opponent shoot a one and one free throw instead of giving them a chance to hit a game tying three pointer.

Memphis inbounded the ball and was allowed to dribble to half court before Arizona committed the foul with just a few seconds left. The Memphis player made the first free throw and then missed the second one intentionally. The ball was tipped and then rebounded by Memphis who would have scored to tie the game had it not been for a somewhat miraculous game saving block by Arizona's Derrick Williams.

In the media room after the game, Coach Miller was asked about his decision to foul in that situation and thereby give Memphis the opportunity to possibly win the game. (Made free throw followed by an intentional miss, an offensive rebound and a kick out for a three.)

In answering the question, Miller recounted a situation that had occurred a couple years earlier when he was coaching at Xavier. Again taking place in the NCAA Tournament, Xavier was ahead by three over eventual NCAA Champion Ohio State. That time Miller elected NOT to foul and Ohio State came down and hit a game tying three pointer at the buzzer and then eventually went on to beat Xavier in overtime. Coach Miller said that he decided right then to approach that situation differently from that point forward.

But the most thought provoking comment came from studio commentator Jay Bilas. Bilas hypothetically wondered aloud, "You foul in that situation because you are obviously afraid of giving up a 3. Would you still foul if you were up by only 2 so your opponent could only tie the game and not win it?" That's an excellent point!

In that particular situation most coaches would probably instruct their players to play good defense, don't give up a 3 and don't give up an "and one." If the offense makes a miracle shot despite good defense then you live with the consequences and take your chances in overtime.

So here's the million dollar question: If you are confident that your team can play good defense without giving up a 3 point play when you are ahead by 2, why not display the same confidence when you're ahead by 3?

Of course there's really not a clear cut right or wrong decision in this type of situation because games have been won and lost both ways. But what is important however, is that whatever your philosophy might be, you teach it to your players BEFORE the situation arises. That way you can explain to your team why you are playing it that particular way and as a result your players will know exactly what to do without any hesitation or second thought.

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