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Gonzaga coach Mark Few sticks to gut, fouls intentionally up three at end of game

Gonzaga head coach Mark Few calls a play during the second half of an NCAA Final Four basketball game, Sat., April 1, 2017, in Phoenix. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga head coach Mark Few calls a play during the second half of an NCAA Final Four basketball game, Sat., April 1, 2017, in Phoenix. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

GLENDALE, Ariz. – To foul or not to foul up three points in the waning moments of the game?

It’s an age-old question among college basketball coaches. A common foul puts the shooter at the line for two shots, not enough to tie the game.

But many disagree that is the superior strategy, arguing that the risk of a potential shooting foul from 3-point range and the chance for the opposing team to shoot three free throws is enough to warrant not fouling.

The Bulldogs were put in that situation during Saturday’s 77-73 win over South Carolina at University of Phoenix Stadium, as Gonzaga led 75-72 with 12 seconds remaining in regulation.

Gonzaga head coach Mark Few instructed his team to foul. Josh Perkins followed the order by grabbing Gamecocks guard Sindarius Thornwell with 3 seconds left.

“I stayed consistent with what we’ve done all year,” Few said. “We love to make the ball handler use as much time as possible where he’s not in a threatening position to take a shooting motion and then foul.

“And I thought we waited a little long to do that, quite honestly. But ‘Perk’ went out and grabbed him before he was in the shooting motion and as it turned out you couldn’t be any better, you know?”

The decision paid off. Killian Tillie snagged the rebound on Thornwell’s missed free throw, was fouled and drilled a pair of his own to put GU up four.

Few told the officials they were going to foul at the end of the game, according to assistant coach Tommy Lloyd.

“You always tell the officials,” Lloyd said. “Our plan is to foul. You don’t want the refs to get deked into a guy starting his shooting motion and shooting unrealistic shot and they call three free throws.”

The decision wasn’t as predetermined or simple as it may seem, according to Few. Fouling too early and not rebounding on free throws made Few second-guess his decision.

“You have to rebound the free throw. And we have been as bad at rebounding free throws,” Few said. “So I mean in my mind I was thinking play it out, but then also I just – I went with my gut and said let’s foul if we can.”

South Carolina coach Frank Martin thought Few might turn on his tendency and play straight-up.

“I figured there was enough time where they were not going to foul right away to prevent us from shooting a 3,” Martin said.

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