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Friday, July 19, 2019

Coaches: You Gotta Dance with Who Brung You!

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By Clay Kallam

Amanda Butler is hardly the only coach who does this, so I don’t want to single out the Florida coach – but she did make the decision, and it almost cost her.

With 7:05 remaining in the first half against then No. 20 Georgia, the Gators led 19-17. With 8:51 remaining in the game, Steffi Sorensen hit her fifth three-pointer of the night to put Florida ahead, 57-41. That’s a 38-24 run over 16:24, an impressive stretch of quality basketball.

At that point, though, the Gators decided that what had worked so well all night wasn’t going to work any more, and slowed the game down. Sorensen, who had hit five of seven threes up to that point, wound up with a wide-open look at a three after an offensive rebound – and turned it down. The TV analyst complimented her on that supposedly heady play, at which point I had to restrain myself from screaming at the television and upsetting my wife and cat.

What I wanted to say was “Look, you just built a 16-point lead by making threes and being aggressive. Now, with eight minutes left against a ranked team, you’re going to change everything? Why? Why shift from something that you know is working to something that might not?”

And of course, any fan has seen teams go into their shell way too soon, allowing a team down by double-digits to come storming back. And of course, that’s what happened here.

Florida did not make a basket for the last 8:51 of the game, as the Gators were more concerned with running clock than scoring points. That plan worked only because Florida managed eight offensive rebounds and picked up three steals. Otherwise, Georgia’s steady erosion of that 16-point lead would have resulted in a reversal of fortunes long before the final horn sounded. As it was, the Bulldogs got within seven with 3:24 left, but Florida got two offensive rebounds and a steal and managed to build the lead back to 10 from the foul line with 1:53 to go.

Now maybe Butler knew her Gators were going to get all those rebounds, and that Georgia would cut it to six in the final 27 seconds but turn the ball over so that there was no chance of a comeback – but you know, I’m guessing she didn’t. In fact, I’m guessing she was dying a thousand deaths as she saw her team implode offensively as its focus on getting the game over washed away any chance of making a shot other than a free throw.

So again, I ask why? If what you’re doing has put you ahead by 16, why would you quit doing it? And at the collegiate level, against a team as talented as Georgia, why would you quit doing it with eight minutes left in the game? Almost any D-I team can score 12 points in two minutes, and almost any D-I team can forget how to score if it doesn’t start initiating its offense until there are only 10 seconds left on the shot clock. Combine those two elements, and a 16-point lead can evaporate in almost no time, especially if the free-throw shooting is shaky (and for the record, Florida shoots 68.9 percent from the line, which isn’t exactly world-beating).

Happily for Gators’ fans, things stopped short of a total unraveling in this game, and Florida escaped with the upset, but many teams aren’t nearly as fortunate. Of course, it does make sense to start running clock at some point, but the earliest time to start thinking about it would be after the last media timeout (which happens at the first whistle with less than four minutes to go) – and even that might be a little soon.

Relying on free throws in pressure situations doesn’t even necessarily work with two minutes to go, and there’s no question that offensive rhythm disappears once a team shifts to focusing on the clock rather than focusing on trying to score. After all, it’s hard enough to score, especially in the SEC, even if that’s the only thing you’re thinking about.

As the old saying goes, you’ve got to dance with the one that brung you, and if you built a 16-point lead over a ranked team by drilling three-pointers, it sure makes sense to me to keep on doing it. Especially since we’ve seen a whole lot of teams try to shift gears and wind up losing a game they should have won.

Originally published Fri, February 26, 2010

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Week: February 7, 2012
1 Baylor (31) 24-0 1 1 1 775
2 Notre Dame 23-1 2 2 2 743
3 Connecticut 21-2 3 4 3 710
4 Stanford 20-1 4 5 4 685
5 Duke 19-3 6 8 5 650
6 Miami (FL) 20-3 7 7 6 604
7 Kentucky 21-3 5 15 7 584
8 Maryland 20-3 10 10 8 534
9 Wisconsin-Green Bay 20-0 9 24 9 530
10 Ohio State 21-2 11 NR-RV
10 483
11 Tennessee 17-6 8 3 11 476
12 Delaware 20-1 13 NR 12 434
13 Georgetown 18-5 15 11 14 379
14 Texas A&M 16-5 16 6 15 378
15 Nebraska 19-3 18 NR 13 309
16 Rutgers 17-4 14 12 17 372
17 Louisville 17-6 12 9 20 276
18 Gonzaga 21-3 19 NR-RV
19 234
19 Purdue 19-5 17 21 16 222
20 Georgia 18-6 20 12 21 202
21 Penn State 18-5 21 14 18 176
22 DePaul 17-7 23 18 NR-RV
23 Georgia Tech 16-6 22 NR-RV
22 104
24 South Carolina 18-5 NR-RV
NR 24 46
25 Vanderbilt 18-5 NR-RV
NR 45
Dropped Out: No. 24 North Carolina, No. 25 Kansas.
First-place votes: Total first-place votes received (if any) are indicated in parentheses following school name.
Others receiving votes: St. Bonaventure (22-2) 34; North Carolina (17-6) 19; California (17-6) 18; Florida Gulf Coast (21-2) 16; Middle Tennessee (19-5) 15; Texas-El Paso (20-2) 8; Texas Tech (16-6) 5; Brigham Young (21-4) 4; Fresno State (19-4) 4; St. John's (15-8) 4; Princeton (15-4) 3; Oklahoma (15-7) 2; West Virginia (17-6) 2; Kansas State (15-7) 1.
Rank remains unchanged since last week
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Credit: Courtesy Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA). The weekly Division I Top 25 Coaches' Poll, sponsored by USA Today and ESPN, is based on voting by a Board of Coaches made up of 31 head coaches at Division I institutions all of whom are WBCA members.