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Late Game Planning, Strategies, and Philosophy

The following article comes from Mitch Cole and the Texas A&M Men’s Basketball Newsletter.

The longer we are in this business, the more we as coaches see the value in preparing for late game situations. Sometimes games can come down to how our teams are prepared to execute when the game is on the line.

How do you work on these situations? Do you cover the various scenarios that can take place late in close games? How much practice time do you devote not only to SPECIAL SITUATIONS, but LATE GAME EXECUTION as well?

Below is some “food for thought” as we all strive for success late in games:


  1. Who is your “go to” player late in the game. Who is the “next best” option if the defense covers him or he as fouled out?
  2. Who are your best ball handlers and passers late in the game?
  3. Who are the players that perform best under pressure: Who can make Free Throws? Who do you trust to inbound the ball under duress?
  4. What is your best DEFENSIVE lineup? Best PRESSING team? Who are your BEST REBOUNDERS if a last second shot is missed?
  5. Which players are most aware of “TIME AND SCORE”, and who has the most poise and experience in those situations?


  1. What do you run that gets our “best players shots, from their most productive spots”?
  2. Do your late game plays end with proper offensive rebounding positioning and defensive transition rotations?
  3. Can your team “flow” to a default action if the first option is taken away?
  4. Do you have late game “COUNTERS” that contain the element of surprise?
  5. Can you execute “late game” Side Out and Baseline Out of Bounds plays when you have no timeouts?
  6. What do you do to insure the players understood the coaches instructions after a time out? Did the subs listen? ORGANIZED HUDDLES!
  7. Are your point guards trained to be aware of the success or failure of our last few possessions? (ex. Have you taken quick jump shots? Has your best player touched the ball recently? Have you gotten to the FT line?)
  8. Do you have a quick zone attack with a short clock in case the opponent changes defenses?
  9. Have you practiced last second full court plays? Who is your passer?
  10. Do you know what to do when down by 3 points with 10 seconds or more? Go for 2 or 3?
  11. Is your press offense structured to get the ball inbounds to your best FT shooters?


  1. Are you prepared to take away the other team’s best players and their best options?
  2. Do ALL 5 players understand the importance of rebounding out of help rotations?
  3. Through scouting, is there a pattern to what the opposing coach likes to run late games? Baseline or Side out of bounds?
  4. Are you equipped to change defenses or coverages if you are continually getting hurt by a player or an action?
  5. Can your players switch screens in an emergency situation? What is our call?
  6. Have you worked on your PREVENT DEFENSE when you are up by 4 OR MORE points in the last minute? No cheap fouls, No direct drives.
  7. Do you foul when up 3 with less than 7 seconds? If so, have you worked on how and when to do it?
  8. Do you have a full court press when down? Deep Side Out Press? Half court trap to get a steal when the team is holding the ball?


*There are several mistakes that can cost our teams late in games. Here are just a few:
  1. Not blocking out at the Free Throw Line!
  2. Missing a breakaway dunk (which ALWAYS seems to change the momentum in a game).
  3. Shooting an ill-advised 3 point shot when down by 3 points with plenty of time to get a 2 pointer and set up the press.
  4. Catching the ball in “trapping areas”. Not providing outlets for passes out of traps.
  5. Not MEETING PASSES when holding the ball and icing the clock.
  6. Fouling a 3 point shooter.
  7. Allowing Tip Ins after last second shots.
  8. Fouling or letting the other team score too quickly when up by 4 or more with under a minute left.
  9. Not understanding how to “CLEAR THE 5 SECOND COUNT” while dribbling in the half court to set up a play.
  10. The wrong players taking shots at the wrong times, just because “I was wide open”. (We all know the answer to that one!)

As we head into post-season in the coming week(s), make sure you have a plan for all of these situations. As one of our favorite quotes states, “Failing to Prepare…is Preparing to Fail.”


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about rick torbett

Rick Torbett has taught thousands of coaches to win more games through his innovative approach to the game. He has created powerful training for coaches at any level so they can coach their best and win more games.

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