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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The Roanoke Times - Timing of using timeouts timely art

Timing of using timeouts timely art
Aaron McFarling

Somewhere, as you read this, former Virginia coach Pete Gillen is probably crafting a cover letter to the Memphis athletic director.

"If you're looking for a coach who is not shy about calling timeouts, please consider me ..."

Of course, Gillen probably would have used them all in the first half, long before the clock reached 10.8 seconds in Monday's national championship game. He probably wouldn't have had the luxury that Memphis coach John Calipari had with his team clinging to 63-60 lead over Kansas.

Didn't matter either way. Calipari had one left to call, and he chose not to use it.

Big mistake.

Isn't it amazing? Five months, 40 games, 38 wins -- and the national title comes down to a timeout that wasn't called.

This is why coaches make millions. This is why Sean Sutton, who recently resigned under pressure at Oklahoma State, has been given $300,000 by the school not to coach. (Oh, and he gets $20,000 a month over the next 10 years, too. You know, sort of like those lottery payments.)

They make big bucks to make big decisions on the fly. And Calipari blew his Monday.

Certainly there were other factors that contributed to Kansas' 75-68 overtime victory. Missed free throws by the Tigers. Clutch shot after clutch shot by Kansas. And of, course, that 3-pointer by Mario Chalmers -- a jumper for the ages -- that sent the game to OT.

But Chalmers should never have been able to take that shot. Even Calipari agrees on that point. He wanted his team to foul, but his team did not foul.

"Sherron Collins got away," Calipari told reporters after the game, referring to the Kansas player who brought the ball up the floor and passed to Chalmers at the top of the key. "We were going to foul at half court. He got away from our man [Derrick Rose]. And then when our man did foul him and pushed him to the floor, probably didn't foul him hard enough because of the space.

"But we were fouling. He separated. I imagine their coach said, 'They're going to try to foul you, so run from them.' And we were fouling.

"We're going to foul with 10 seconds to go and they run from us. We push the kid to the floor, but we don't foul him hard enough and the kid makes a shot over our arm. And that's why we lose. That's bottom line what happened."

No. Bottom line what happened is that his players weren't in a great position to foul and didn't foul emphatically enough. In fact, contrary to Calipari's recreation of the events, Rose looked tentative in his fouling efforts, as if he wasn't sure that was what the Tigers were supposed to do. He even threw up his hands in the classic "I didn't touch him" move shortly before Chalmers' shot.

But can you blame him? For those guys, the universe must have been swirling at that moment. Seconds away from a national title, leading by 3, the instinctual response is to simply play good defense, not hack your opponent.

We can debate forever whether fouling is the best option in this situation. That's not the point. The point is that Calipari believed it was the best option, but he couldn't get his team to execute it.

That's where a timeout comes in. In that situation, chaos serves the offense. A 30-second huddle after Rose's free throw would have allowed Calipari to calm his struggling team and clearly establish the game plan. Rose -- and presumably others, if Collins somehow got away -- would have left the officials no choice but to blow the whistle.

About 7 seconds remained when Collins reached midcourt. So maybe Collins would have hit both free throws, Memphis would have clanked another pair, and the Jayhawks would have made a half-court shot to win it. But that's asking a lot more than what Chalmers had to do -- speculator as it was.

Calipari knew that. And there was only one thing missing to ensure it went the way he wanted it.

If only he'd had Gillen on speed dial.

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