Ohio State and Arizona played one of those NCAA tournament games in which the cliche “every possession counts” was to be taken literally. ‘Zona was up at the half but the Buckeyes came storming out of the locker room and quickly claimed the lead. Now, let’s flash forward to the final two-and-a-half minutes of the game when OSU’s Nick Johnson deflected an Ohio State pass into the backcourt. He and the Bucks’ Aaron Craft scrambled for the ball. Johnson did what he’s seen so many of his peers do in similar situations. He wisely called time out. Or was it such a smart move? True, they got the ball - but the time out was the Wildcats’ last. Had Johnson simply grabbed onto the ball and been tied up, the call would have been a “held ball” with the possession arrow going to . . . Arizona. In other words, there was no need to burn that final timeout, leaving the ‘Cats with zero so late in such a meaningful game.
Anyone reading this blog is undoubtedly saying, “How in the hell - in the heat of such a moment - is Nick Johnson supposed to know the possession arrow in his team’s favor?” My former boss and current friend and mentor George Raveling started a website about a year or so ago (CoachGeorgeRaveling.com - a site I highly recommend). To date I’ve contributed a couple articles and I’m currently working on another (”Seating Arrangements and Duties for the Coaching Staff During Games”). The first was entitled Top 10 Traits of a College Assistant Coach. Trait #6 mentions “end-of-game situations.” I encourage anyone who’d like to more deeply be involved when witnessing a game to read it. The article I’m currently writing will reiterate the answer to the above posed question - as did Trait #6.
An assistant coach should have made everyone - coaches and players - aware of 1) how many times out the team had left and 2) which team had the possession arrow. Some may think, “oh that’s easy to say.” No. It . . . really . . . is. It’s just part of your practices. Maybe not every day in October, November or December but as the season moves on (and the majority of your defensive and offensive sets or plays have been implemented), there is more time for special situations and incidents exactly like the one that occurred in the UA-OSU contest.
Arizona’s head coach Sean Miller was speaking about the final Ohio State possession when Aaron Craft passed the ball to LaQuinton Ross who buried a three-pointer with a couple of ticks left. What he said was their plan was to switch the screen on the ball but didn’t. He lamented (not a direct quote):
“In the pressure of the NCAA tournament, as the pressure mounts, it’s difficult for guys to do what you want them to do.”