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Down 3: To Foul or Not to Foul?

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    There’s a lot of debate and we’ve all seen this go both ways. End of game situation: When you’re up 3 and the other team has the ball. Do you foul and put them on the line ensuring they can’t tie with a 3, allowing them to potentially get within 1 from the FT line.  Risking fouling on a shot, a potential offensive rebound situation from the line, and having to inbound the ball again.

    In the poll, there is no option for ‘it depends.’ ☺️

    Ray Allen Shot.jpg



    Lisa, thanks for posting. Great question and an important one.

    My answer depends on the most important piece…time…how much time is left in game?

    More than 7 seconds – probably no foul…..Less than 7 seconds – foul

    Answer to your original question is “Yes, Maybe, Yes, it depends” ?

    The teaching I would use with my team is foul on first dribble assuming we can make them catch outside of scoring range. If it was full court, I would tell them to foul after the 1st dribble over half-court.

    Interested to hear from other coaches and why they choose their answers.


    I am not fouling.  

    For me, it goes against the principles we are coaching everyday.  There are too many variables to deal with and potential outcomes.  We are teaching that we must be defensive minded and limit fouls for the other 39 minutes and 50 seconds of the game….. So therefore we must trust our defence in this moment!  

    I just think it is mixed messaging and would rather build a gritty, stopper mentality.  Not to be bailed out by fouling.  Trust your defence and get the job done!  Don’t leave anything to chance or in the hands of officials.  Through my experiences of being in this type of moment a whole bunch of times, I like to force the offence to make an unbelievable play vs great defence.  If it works out, great, if it doesn’t, there is probably a nice teachable moment for the betterment of our defence moving forwards.  No right or wrong, but I would rather win the game with a clean defensive stop!  Building the guys up to be able to do that time and time again… trust your defence!!!


    I would say foul (non shooting) at 4 or under.  At 7 there is still time to foul and get the length of the court for another possession by the opponent.   So with no “it depends” choice in the poll I said foul only if not shooting – but in practice I would ask for three things.   1.  force opponent to catch moving away from basket.   2.  try to force a dribble or pass to use 2-3 seconds.   3.  foul only if absolutely certain they are not able to make it a shot attempt.    Key is to actually practice late game fouling so you can teach and correct in a controlled environment. 


    7 seconds is almost a little too much time but for the sake of the argument I say foul immediately and put them on the free throw line.  In a best case scenario I would follow what Aaron says.  To use a term I have stolen from another key5 member, we would probably combine this with our Umbrella defense set and do everything we can to crowd the three point line and force people to the rim, off the dribble to hopefully eat up time and make them take a 2.  If we could get anyone to catch outside the three point line with their back to the basket then this would be a great time to go for a steal and risk a potential foul. 


    To me this is a simple decision you do not foul and trust the defense to do its job! Deny any open looks at the perimeter, force them to pass or dribble to kill clock.  As mentioned earlier by  a coach in this stream choosing to foul in this situation creates an environment where too many variables could alter the score significantly. If they do score a lay-up that is fine, after they score, get the ball in which will force them to foul you and if the team is in bonus or double bonus you secure the victory at the free throw line. 


    So far, ‘No, contest without fouling’ is winning. I’m with @Aaron Hill . Practicing this end of game situation and and any situation that you may ask your players to foul in. Definitely teaching them how in different situations is important.

    The other issue is replicating end of game situations at full speed. I’ve found players quickly lose their energy and focus when practicing late game situations. Need to schedule small segments over a few practices and review throughout the season.

    @ROBERT BRUNK – I like ‘if this then foul’.

    @Steven Bingham – So true. So many factors to consider on both sides. I’ve also seen the inbounding of the ball then result in a jump ball situation (rightfully or wrongfully called). Leaving another thing in the official’s hands… ? 


    Foul under 8 seconds. 


    Excellent thought provoking question about a scenario and a strategical decision that everyone will face, sometimes several times in a year.

    I personally have never been one to foul in this situation. Not saying I would never foul in this situation. I just believe that fouling in this situation goes against my end of game coaching philosophy.  One of the core values I try to instill in my player’s and teams is not to foul jump shooters late in the game and stop the clock with the lead.  Plus of they make both free throws they can set their press up by a timely substitution. Not saying the strategy to foul here is wrong but I will take our chances with using an umbrella defense and make the opposition eat clock and make a very tough contested three pointer to tie and not bring in the opportunity to lose the game in this situation. 

    The worst that I see happening in this scenario if everything goes right for the opposition is getting tied up and going to over time. I just believe losing the game at this particular moment can not happen unless we open the door for them. Such as  a four point play opportunity or send them the free throw line and they make one miss the second and tip the ball out off the rebound like Duke tries to do a lot to a three point shooter. I know you do not see this happen often but obviously it is a competitive game and now you are asking your kids to do something that is not normal under game pressure and that is foul with a lead and foul a non-shooter. The officials must agree they are a not in the act of shooting and it is a common foul not an intentional one as well.  I am sure this can be practiced.  Just like all of the end of game scenarios, like how to properly foul, up or down with time and score.

    I will say that as a coach that this needs to be a predetermined decision before the game pressure is on. That way you make this decision without the game stress and are fully prepared to accept and defend your decision in this situation.


    I am not fouling.  I tell my players to try to grab the ball and force a jump ball  as it’s a 50/50 ball, especially if we have the possession arrow.  Of course this depends on how good the other team guard is but I have learnt that if you apply tight on ball defense late in the closing minutes of a game that most players will pick up their dribble.  The key is teaching your players to grab the ball with both hands without fouling.


    Not fouling. Especially in girls/women’s basketball. Pressure the ball, no foul, and don’t care if we give up a layup. Fouling introduces too many variables for me, specifically giving up an ‘And 1’ or not successfully securing a missed 2nd free throw.

    Also a factor: How many timeouts are left and what is the clock rule on a made basket? In Oregon high school basketball the clock does not stop on a made basket, so even if we let you go get a layup, if you don’t have any timeouts, the clock runs and we don’t inbound it. At the college level where the clock stops, even if we give it up, we’ll call TO, advance the ball and get it in. 


    I have some unfortunate news to report…I lost my sons’ 4th grade team.

    We were up 3 with 7 seconds to go…other team has side out of bounds. We didn’t foul and they hit a desperation 3 to send to OT…we lost in 2nd OT (sudden death). This was the play-offs.

    In hindsight, I should have fouled.

    Frustrated Coach,



    @Sam Allen thanks for sharing.  For younger teams like that it’s hard to implement strategies like that.  Perhaps the lesson learned by the kids and coach will help the athletes understand the situation the next time they are in it and easier to coach it. 





    Here is an interesting video on the subject. I must say I have changed my mind several times on this topic but I am not fouling.

    I agree with Mark’s point about not wanting to put it in the referee’s hands. 2 things can go wrong here, an intentionnal foul call, or a missed foul call that gives the offense an advantage for an open 3. You also have to make sure your players are disciplined enough not to foul someone that is about to shoot. Lastly, and this is the one that makes the difference for me, by fouling you give the other team a chance to win the game in regulation…where as not fouling the worst case scenario is overtime.

    Obviously in both scenarios you must prepare your team to properly respond to the situation. I would rather use practice time to work on defensive concepts to give up no 3’s (Which we will use in other situations as well) as opposed to using time to prepare for a situation that may never happen in the season


    i am “foul with under 7 seconds” vote. But interestingly, we decided at the beginning of the season that we would Foul, but between our 9th grade and Varsity teams, it never came up the entire season. it was either tied or only up 1 or 2. 

    i agree that you need to teach how to foul, but also agree that it is so rare that it may be useless to waste too much practice time on it. 

    I think it might come down to your style of play…we are uptempo, so maybe the slower Virginia-type teams find themselves in these situations more?

    I really like the idea of yelling out to FOUL but your team knows you are NOT fouling. i might go with that concept next season and have our guys just stunt out at the guys at midcourt. Yes, the refs could mess that up. so i’m wondering if i could warn them somehow prior to yelling it out?

    i’m also not sure you can make that blanket decision prior to the season. we decided we would foul, but as the season progressed our “Bigs” were terrible FT rebounders, so we would have been better off not fouling. we were so much better with our small ball lineup. 

    always an interesting discussion.

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