For coaches, handling timeouts is tricky business
AP Basketball Writer
It seems to be easy question: Call a timeout or don’t call a timeout?
However, at some point during the win-or-go-home NCAA tournament, a timeout – or the lack of one – could be the difference between winning or losing. And while Dick Vitale is always screaming “Get a T.O., baby!”, some of the top college coaches say it’s not quite so simple.
How quickly should a coach call one if an opponent goes on a scoring run?
Bill Self, coach of top-seeded Kansas, won’t hesitate to use all five of his allotted timeouts to stop the bleeding.
“I don’t mind using them at all – no reason to hoard them,” Self said. “But I do think situation dictates when you call them.”
Then there are coaches like California’s Mike Montgomery, an admitted hoarder.
“I’m a saver and I always have been,” said Montgomery, whose team won the Pac-10 regular-season title and is a No. 8 seed. “I do think, though, that when you get into a loser-out environment you can ill-afford to get yourself into too big of a hole and you can’t fight your way back out of it. … It doesn’t do you much good to save them if you’re going to lose.”
It’s a small part of game strategy, but timeouts often play a big role by the final horn. In addition to the media timeouts coming roughly every 4 minutes, teams have up to four 30-second timeout (three carry to the second half) and one 60-second timeout in regulation. Teams get an extra 30-second timeout in overtime.
Burn them all and a team can get burned at end of a game.
Look no further than Chris Webber’s infamous timeout call – or more accurately, calling the one Michigan didn’t have – in the final seconds to all but seal Dean Smith’s second national championship at North Carolina in 1993.
Steve Fisher was the Wolverines’ coach at that time. Now at San Diego State, an 11th seed that plays Tennessee on Thursday, Fisher understandably tries to avoid that situation again.
“I’d like to keep two in my pocket going down the stretch,” Fisher says. “I don’t want to use all of them. I’d like to save them for the players.”
Then there are games when it’s more about the timeout that doesn’t get called. North Carolina’s Roy Williams was criticized for not calling one during Kansas’ 18-0 run in the 2008 Final Four that helped put his Tar Heels in an unfathomable 40-12 first-half hole, yet Williams is a disciple of Smith’s save-the-timeouts philosophy.
Kentucky’s John Calipari would rather not have to call one, either.
“Early in my career when I wanted to be ‘Watch me coach,’ I called a lot of timeouts,” Calipari said. “I went out there and showed them the board: I’m going to write up a play, watch the genius that I am. I used to do that, but after you get older, you think what you think.”
Then again, Calipari said he’s had to be more involved with a young squad that earned the No. 1 seed in the East Region. That led to his curious timeout call in last month’s two-point win at Vanderbilt; the Commodores had no timeouts and had to go the length of the court, but Calipari called his own timeout with 2.5 seconds left that allowed Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings to draw up a play that nearly resulted in a tying basket at the horn.
Afterward, Calipari said it was “one of the dumbest timeouts” he had ever called and said he asked his team to “please make me look good, somebody do something.”
“In most cases, I don’t need to interject myself for my own ego, so if I don’t have to call timeouts, I don’t call them,” Calipari said. “If I interject myself, I’m also interjecting the other coach. … I’d rather go home with four timeouts.”
If anything, coaches don’t want their players looking to the sideline to be saved by a timeout call every time an opponent makes a run. Instead, many coaches would rather take a simple attitude – “you got us into this, you get us out” – with their players when at all possible.
“We practice every single day to set up so many different situations that you ought to be pretty much understanding what’s going on,” said Temple coach Fran Dunphy, whose Owls are a No. 5 seed. “And more than you being understanding, your players ought to be pretty understanding of how to handle a situation. But certainly, if teams make runs, you want to stop the run and call the timeout.”
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, whose team is a No. 1 seed for the first time in four years, doesn’t have a set rule and said he prefers to call timeouts instinctively. He might let his players go longer without calling a timeout earlier in the season to make them show more toughness or adjust to a wild crowd, but things can change in March.
“It can vary from game to game and certainly from month to month because maybe they’ve already learned that lesson,” Krzyzewski said. “Or, you know what, I’m not going to teach that lesson today. We just need to win this damn game no matter what the hell we have to do.”
Still, coaches don’t always have a say in when their timeouts are called. Krzyzewski still remembers when his Blue Devils didn’t have a timeout for the final 5 1/2 minutes of its two-point loss to Kentucky that sent the eventual champion Wildcats to the 1998 Final Four. That’s because the players had to call several timeouts to protect offensive possessions during the course of the game.
In the ’93 final, Michigan had to burn a timeout on an inbounds play early in the second half, an innocent-looking play that proved huge once Webber signaled for that unforgettable timeout.
“You try to have all your timeouts in the second half,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “You use them in emergencies if somebody’s stuck some place. Sometimes the players will call them, sometimes you do. But you’d like to have them at the end of the game. It’s important.”
Either way, Self is ready to make the call for the Jayhawks.
“There’s no reason not to use them if you’ve got them,” he said. “You can’t take them home with you.”
AP Basketball Writer Dan Gelston in Philadelphia; AP Sports Writers John Kekis in Syracuse, N.Y.; Joedy McCreary in Durham, N.C.; Doug Tucker in Lawrence, Kan., and Associated Press Writer Jeffrey McMurray in Lexington, Ky., contributed to this report.