End Of Game Strategy Thoughts – SEC Final – Kentucky vs. Miss St.

By Don Kelbick

As I watched the end of the Kentucky – Mississippi State SEC Final game, my mind was flooded with thoughts. Not the least of which is how, in sports, we play the results rather than the action. We look at the outcome and the process in which we have arrived at that outcome becomes an absolute. There is no room for other opinions and certainly no consideration for the situation.

It reminds me of my time as an assistant coach. All of my decisions were correct. I was never wrong. I would make a suggestion. If there was a positive outcome, I was the hero. If there was a negative outcome, the head coach would be the fall guy.

Conjecture insulates you from mistakes and criticism. Action removes all doubt and the outcome is judged. Assistants are all conjecture, head coaches are all action.

What does that have to do with the game, you ask. When we watch games on TV, or from the stands for that matter, we are all assistants.

When the game ended, my thoughts wandered toward a number of comments made and articles that have been written (admittedly, mostly by me) on this website. For those that are not aware of the finish, it went like this:

MSU was up by a point when Kentucky shot and missed. On the ensuing rebound by MSU, the rebounder was fouled with 8.2 seconds to go. The MSU player went to the foul line for 2 shots. He made the first. Kentucky coach John Calipari called a time out. Returning to the foul line. The MSU player made the 2nd foul shot. MSU now led by 3 with 8.2 seconds left. UK inbounded the ball, advanced it a bit and took another timeout. UK inbounded the ball and the UK player was fouled with 4.9 seconds to go. The UK player made the first shot. He intentionally missed the second shot. UK controlled the rebound and scored at the buzzer to send the game into overtime and Kentucky was the game and the SEC championship.

That brings us back to my thoughts.

A couple of years ago around this time, coach Cal was taking a lot of criticism for not calling a time out at the end of regulation time in the National Championship game against Kansas while coaching Memphis. He was roasted. The critics came out and roasted him, “Calipari lost the game because he did not call a time out.” It was absolute. I wrote an article (Thoughts on the John Calipari Roast…) in which I said I don’t believe it made any difference. If Derrick Rose had made a couple of foul shots, it would not have mattered. He did not call a time out to ice a foul shooter. He was roasted for not fouling Mario Chalmers who made a 3 at the buzzer. Critics say, “You have to foul the guy so he gets 2 instead of 3.” I disagreed.

Let’s look at what happened in this situation. MSU on the foul line, Coach Cal tried to ice the shooter between the first and second shots. It didn’t matter, he hit the shot anyway.

Coach Cal took a time out after the foul shot, it didn’t matter because he took another timeout shortly thereafter. How much can a situation change in the 2 seconds that elapsed.

In a 3 point game, MSU fouled the ballhandler to give him 2 shots instead of a chance to make a game tying 3. It didn’t matter, they got 3 anyway. Now there are critics saying, “You can’t foul him, force him to make the shot.” Playing the results once again.

In basketball, the are no absolutes, only opinion and conjecture. For you “must call time out” people. Rick Stanbury called time out and lost, John Calipari called time out and it came down to an offensive foul shot off a free throw. MSU fouled so UK wouldn’t get a 3, they gave up 3 points anyway.

And for those of you that think that the offensive rebound play happened by chance should think again. Knowing Coach Cal as I do, I know that they have practiced this over and over again. He may have discussed it in his last timeout (along with the probability of getting fouled). But you didn’t see him call a timeout in between foul shots to set it up again.

The moral of this story that there are no givens, no musts, no ordinaries in basketball. There is only conjecture and result. As a coach, do what you do because YOU feel it is best for you, not because somebody else says so. Just because the results change doesn’t mean your philosophy does. It still comes down to the players.

I do not believe in calling time out at the end. I do not believe in fouling to prevent the 3 (I just don’t like to intentionally put the ball near the basket as you do on a foul shot). I would rather be down a point, with the ball with a chance to win, than be up 1 and have the other team with the ball. Those are my beliefs, they work for me and I won’t change them.

I also believe in preparation. I have not 1, but 2 offensive foul shot plays. I actually have a defense against a missed foul shot play at the end of a game. I have a “get out and go” play for the end of the game so I don’t have to call a time out.

Most importantly, I don’t think I am right, just right for me. I do not deal with conjecture or play the result. I do what I think will be best for my team. You can do everything right and still get a bad result. That does not mean your decision was wrong.

MSU coach Rick Stansbury did everything right, called timeouts, fouls to prevent the 3, they still lost.


  1. Sean — April 9, 2010 @ 7:01 pm

    “I do not deal with conjecture or play the result.”

    Okay, I understand where you’re coming from Coach K. But, can you help me understand the end of the Championship game (i.e. Duke vs. Butler)?

    A sports columnist wrote that Duke’s Doubek missed the second of his two free throws on purpose, with just seconds left on the clock.

    I realize that Butler had no time outs left, but I guess I don’t understand; if Zoubek had scored then even if Hayward’s long 3 attempt had gone in, it would have been a tie game. If Zoubek’s second free throw doesn’t go in and Hayward scores, Butler wins.

    Do you understand my confusion? Thanks for your time.

  2. Don Kelbick — April 9, 2010 @ 8:48 pm

    It is simple. If he makes the foul shot, the clock does not start until the ball is touched inbounds. Teams (good teams, anyway) have last second plays that are run from from made baskets without a time out.

    Missing the foul shot forces the defensive to fight for the rebound as the clock starts as soon as the ball is touched. It prevented Butler from running its end of game play and forced them to scramble.

  3. Bill Simmons — April 17, 2010 @ 2:00 pm

    Coach K was interviewed on Mike & Mike. He said that the decision was based on two factors, as Don said, the helter-skelter of a missed foul shot put Butler in a position of relying on a “hail Mary” half-court shot. He also said that, because of foul problems and the tone of the game, that Duke would lose it in overtime. It was now or never- so he called for the miss. I don’t know if I agree but it worked.

  4. sastav — April 23, 2012 @ 12:28 pm

    He said that the decision was based on two factors, as Don said, the helter-skelter of a missed foul shot put Butler in a position of relying on a “hail Mary” half-court shot.
    I agree

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