Program Specialist, UTEP

A very important part of any basketball program is the execution of late game situations both offensively and defensively. The end of the game in every basketball game is very important. Regardless of the lead, location of the game, or the time of the year, the last five minutes of a basketball game can bring all possibilities of endings. Both teams may be within grasp of a big win, but one team will be headed toward a loss. However, one play can change the momentum of the game and alter the oucome of the game.

A great way for a head coach to improve his team's ability to execute late game situations is to spend time during practice on this segment. It is a great way to end practice each day by spending the last ten minutess on a possible future game ending.

There are several ways that this can be done. First, let the head coach be in charge of one team, and an assistant coach in charge of the second team. Also, you could let the head coach watch the format and let the assistant coaches be divided among teams. It is a great way for the head coach and the assistant coach to stay sharp on game situations and to also experiment with different strategies.

Second, have various formats with time and strategy. For example, one team could be up 70-65 with 2:10 to play in the game. There will need to be one coach or manager that is officiating the action. The process can be complex and have a certain number of timeouts available per team, certain players can have so many fouls, or a star player could have already fouled out. Play can be started in the half-court, full-court, on a free throw, on a baseline out-of-bounds play, on a sideline out-of-bounds play, or many other options. These many situations can expose a basketball team to many situations that could become present during an upcoming pivotal game.

Third, it is a great way to keep excitement at the end of practice. Coaches and players will look forward to the end of practice and the chance to compete in a game-like fashion. Also, there could be token penalties for the losing team to remind them that losing is not fun. This should be kept to a minimum. For example, the losing team may have to run a down and back as a simple reminder that their team lost.

Fourth, this will give your team extra confidence in late game situations. Players will embarace late game pressure situations that may come down to one play to win the game. It also will be added confidence if there is a dramatic play at the end of the game that results in overtime. It also will allow the coach to be able to refer back to practice when similar game situations arise. Certain coaching strategies or plays can be performed and taught to players in case the team has no remaining timeouts or desires not to use a timeout.

Fifth, it will culminate what practice is really about, and that is preparing your team to be able to be successful during games. Players are able to see and better understand what the coach is emphasizing in practice and how it can be beneficial to the team in a game. It allows for game action play that does not end in loss or total failure. If a cetain segment is not executed perfectly, then there can be a quick teaching point made on what could have been executed better.

Last but not least, all coaches and players will feel confident during late game situations, which often determine who wins a game. Regarldless of the outcome of the game, the coaches and players will know that they were prepared to execute a late game situation, and they did the very best that they could.

Reprinted by permission of BASKETBALL SENSE (The Magazine for Winning Coaches -