Stop or go: As clock ticks down, call timeout or play on?South Carolina head coach Frank Martin reacts in the second half against Baylor during an East Regional semifinal game of the NCAA men's college basketball tournament, Friday, March 24, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
NEW YORK (AP) -- If Florida coach Mike White had a timeout left at the end of the Gators' thrilling victory against Wisconsin, the most memorable shot of this NCAA Tournament so far might not have happened.
Down 2 points with no way to stop the clock and plot out a strategy to go the length of the floor with 4 seconds left, the Gators put the ball in the hands of one their speedy guards and let him go to work.
Chris Chiozza produced the first game-winning buzzer-beater of the tournament after sprinting to the 3-point line and letting fly a one-hander that hit nothing but net. The fourth-seeded Gators advanced to play No. 7 seed South Carolina on Sunday at Madison Square Garden in an East Regional final that is all-Southeastern Conference.
''I was glad we didn't have (a timeout), of course,'' White said Saturday. ''Especially a half hour after Chris makes the shot he made. It was easier to say that last night than right now, but I don't want to back off of that sentiment. If we had called a timeout, who knows what (Wisconsin coach) Greg (Gard) does and how they line up and match up and what type of defense that we see.''
It is a choice coaches face often at the end of close games: Call a timeout and a play or trust preparation will lead the players to make the right decisions without further instruction against a scrambling defense.
With only 4 seconds left, just getting into position to take a decent shot is difficult, but Florida has the type of players needed to pull it off.
''They've got the three fastest guards in the country,'' South Carolina associated head coach Matt Figger said, referring to Chiozza, Kasey Hill and KeVaughn Allen.
White said he likes to think he would not have called a timeout even if he had one to call - probably.
''And that's probably been the case five or six times this year, where we had one late half or late clock, late game, where, especially with both these guys in the game, if they can get ahead of steam in 4 seconds, they can cover a lot of ground, and Chris obviously showed that,'' White said.
Most end of game offense during this tournament has been - at best - unproductive. Lots of hero-ball, long jumpers coming up empty. Some notable examples:
- Princeton had a chance to knock off Notre Dame in the first round, but down one in the waning moments took a long 3-pointer that missed.
- Wichita State needed a 3 to tie Kentucky on its last possession and ended up getting it blocked.
- West Virginia was down three and had the ball for the last 38 seconds against Gonzaga - never called a timeout - and barely hit the rim once in three long attempts.
Figger said, generally speaking, 12 seconds and under is usually a let-the-kids play scenario for South Carolina.
Kentucky coach John Calipari said often his first instinct is to refrain from calling timeout and see what develops.
''I'd let it go and watch and then be ready to scream timeout if it looks ugly but I want them to just play on and that's what we practice,'' Calipari said. ''I like to go home with timeouts. I like the players to work through their issues.''
South Carolina coach Frank Martin said he does have a few basic end-game guidelines.
''Any time we're tied, I'm not calling a timeout. If we're down one, probably not calling a timeout,'' Martin said. ''That's kind of the way we rehearse. If we're down three, we're going to foul, inside of 7, 8 seconds to go.''
Which brings up another point: It's not just the team with the ball that has a decision to make. Wisconsin had a timeout Saturday night and maybe the Badgers would have been better off using it after Nigel Hayes' go-ahead free throws and setting up their defense.
Florida assistant Darris Nichols said the Gators scout opponents' offense tendencies well enough to know the ones that thrive on inbounds plays.
''A team that's really good in that situation, why would you call a timeout and let them do what they're really good at?'' Nichols said.
In the end, though, all the strategy and planning often goes out the window.
''Sometimes you get a broken play and a guy jumps sideways off one foot and throws it over his shoulder and it goes in the net,'' Martin said. ''You can rehearse a lot, but at the end of the day things have to go your way and breaks have to go your way. All of sudden we look a lot smarter when that happens than we really are.''
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