Historic debate continues: To foul or not to foul

Photo via Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review

For any basketball fan, it’s the type of nail-biting, game-deciding situation that leaves you screaming at your TV. Your favorite team just scored a big basket to put them up by three, 10 seconds left. What should the defense do? Defend the play, and run the risk of a game-tying three? Or should they foul, forcing free throws and a maximum of two points?

These are the age-old questions that have polarized some of basketball’s greatest minds. There’s Team Rihanna and Team Beyonce, Team Edward and Team Jacob and now, there’s Team Defend and Team Foul.

The most prominent display of a defend or foul dilemma (maybe of the last decade) occurred on the basketball’s biggest stage in the Final Four matchup between powerhouse Gonzaga Bulldogs and cinderella South Carolina Gamecocks with the Zags up 75-72.

After the Gamecocks managed to cross the mid-court line, Gonzaga’s Josh Perkins gave the strategic foul with 3.5 seconds left, sending Thornwell to the line for two shots.

Thornwell stepped up and nailed the first free throw. With very little time left on the clock, Thornwell had no choice but to intentionally miss the second, in hopes for a fellow Gamecock to grab the rebound and put it back in for two points to send the game to overtime. However, Gonzaga freshmen center Killian Tillie grabbed the board and was fouled. Tillie would go on to hit two throws, giving Gonzaga a four-point lead, effectively ending the game.

Gonzaga’s defensive sequence was a defend or foul situation executed to perfection.

Perkins picked the right moment to give the foul. There was not enough time left (3.5 seconds) for South Carolina to have a chance to gain another possession and Thornwell was handling the ball about two feet outside the three point line, which made him unlikely to begin a shooting motion and draw a three-shot foul.

However, in the heat of the moment, there was a divide in the Zags huddle about the play call, as many players were uneasy about Gonzaga coach Mark Few’s call to foul. “I was screaming at my teammates to foul because I saw they weren’t fouling,” said Gonzaga starting point guard Nigel Williams-Goss in an interview.

Although Few has been one of very few coaches to be a proponent of fouling, he too was torn by the decision at hand.

Few pointed out, choosing to foul leads a team to run the risk of not obtaining the rebound off the intentionally missed second free throw, giving the opposing team another possession to either tie the game or win the game with a three. This is the nightmare scenario that often scares coaches away from fouling and instead electing to play out the final defensive possession.

However, a player knocking down a clutch three-pointer is much more likely than the team grabbing an offensive board off an intentional miss after a foul.

So is fouling the right move?

“I would pressure the ball and slow them [the offensive team down by three] down and foul after they get over half court,” said Vassar basketball player Steve Palecki. “Limits them from tying the game with a three but necessary to rebound on the free throws for this plan to work.”

One does not have to look at the numbers to recognize that defending often turns sour for the defensive team more often than fouling.

Recall the 2008 NCAA national championship game, where Memphis choose to defend, resulting in Kansas knocking down a clutch three-pointer to tie and send the game to overtime.

Kansas would eventually go on to win. But can anyone recall any game in which fouling under six seconds actually resulted in an overtime?

Evidence goes to show, when in doubt, just foul.

The article can also be found on the Miscellany News!

Boca Raton Bowl Game Preview: WKU vs. Memphis

Photo via WKU Athletics Photo

Day: Tuesday, December 20

Time: 7PM Eastern

Place: FAU Stadium – Boca Raton, FL

Watch: ESPN, WatchESPN app

Tonight’s matchup in Boca Raton, Florida begins the next batch of bowl games in this postseason by pitting Western Kentucky (10-3) against Memphis (8-4). This will prove to be a great night of football, and both teams will get to flex their offensive strengths in an all-out point-for-point brawl.

Strengths for Western Kentucky:

The Hilltoppers are on a 7-game winning streak, and it’s a mistake to ever underestimate a team with that kind of momentum. In a neutral-zone game with such high stakes, any kind of advantage is important, and WKU might be riding an unstoppable wave.

WKU is second in the nation in scoring this year, seemingly always able to score a touchdown. The keystone to this high-powered offense is junior QB Mike White, who threw for over 4,000 yards this season.

White’s right hand man, Taywan Taylor, received 1,586 of those yards, and is sure to showcase his talents tonight on the field.

Weaknesses for Western Kentucky:

The Hilltoppers come into this bowl at a very tumultuous time. Their current interim head coach is Nick Holt, who was expected to get the head coaching job next year. Instead, WKU will bring in Notre Dame offensive coordinator Mike Sanford. Will Holt be able to take charge of a quality program for this one game, or will the team’s talent be wasted while he is distracted by his uncertain future?

WKU has a pass defense ranked 110th in the nation, which does not bode well against the high-powered offense of the Memphis Tigers.

Despite their 10-3 record, WKU will be challenged by a team who has played a much more rigorous schedule than their previous Conference USA opponents.

Strengths for Memphis:

The Tigers have a promising offense that might very well be able to outscore the Hilltoppers. They average 517.4 yards per game, and QB Riley Ferguson has thrown 3,326 yards on the season thanks in part to his talented team of receivers that creates numerous exploitable matchups.

Memphis is in the AAC, which has been on the rise lately. This means that they’ve tested themselves—and have several times succeeded—against much more difficult teams. They may not have 10 wins like their opponent, but they earned their eight wins in much more hard-fought  matchups.

Momentum will be key for the Tigers. Yes, they’re not on a 7-game win streak, and that’ll hurt them against a program like WKU, but they are coming off a win against Houston, who for the past two years has been a powerful program and difficult opponent. They may not be as fired up, but they come into this game confident in their abilities as a team.

Weaknesses for Memphis:

This weakness is huge and may cost Memphis the game if they’re not careful: defense. The Tigers have had gaping holes in both their rush and pass defense all year, and if they don’t patch them up and start playing smarter, WKU could dominate the game.


This will undoubtedly be a very high scoring game. Memphis will win, but not by much. They’ve been tested against a more challenging schedule and they are the more composed team, but the Hilltoppers have an explosive offense and a strong offensive line to protect them. It could go either way in the end, but Memphis will win by less than a touchdown.