Late in the season, we shorten practices. We try to get the kids to practice hard and reward their energy and attention by shortening practice to 60-90 minutes. We will do shooting drills and free-throws every practice. We will scrimmage and go 5-on-5 up and get down the floor for some aerobic work-out.
By this time in the season, they should know your offenses and defenses, press offense and press defenses. We will however, drill a certain aspect or detail of any of these that needs attention. We might work on some late-game situations. We will quickly review some of our plays.
We will target our practice somewhat to our next opponent... if they play zone, we spend some time on zone offense. If they press, we practice our press-breakers. We will address what they are trying to do on offense and how we intend to defend them. But we don't want to be overly concerned about what our opponent might do... we want to focus on what we want to do, and let them worry about us.
Trying to make a big change, such as changing your defense from man-to-man to zone, or vice-versa, at this point in the season will usually cause more problems for you than your opponent. At this point, you have to usually go with what you know you can do.
At the end of practice, we remind the kids to go home and get plenty of rest and sleep, and not stay up all night playing video games. They need their sleep to maintain health and energy, get over sicknesses, heal injuries, and to be good students. We remind them to eat right, and avoid a lot of junk food, and to stay out of trouble and avoid making stupid, bad decisions that might get them benched, or kicked off the team.
Adding new plays
We play each of our conference opponents twice during the regular season. By the end of the season, every coach in the conference pretty much knows what everyone else is doing on offense and defense. So we will add a few new plays for the post-season tournament. We will purposely "hold back" a couple favorites and put them in just for the tournament.
We will usually add a couple new out-of-bounds plays vs man-to-man and zone defenses, and a couple new half-court plays designed to get good shots for our best players, and maybe a new sideline out-of-bounds play. The plays that we select again depend on our personnel, as we want our best scorers to get the most shots. See the plays on this page: Basketball Late-Season Tune-Up
Winning Tournament Games
To make a tournament run, your team must be coming together, "gelling", at the right time. They must play hard for 32 minutes each game, and play together. They have to "play to win", and not "play not to lose", which means they can't worry about winning and losing, and making mistakes and missing shots... they just play as hard as they can, with every player doing his job, having the courage to try to score, and have fun. Key players must learn to avoid getting into foul-trouble.
Big tournament wins and upsets are usually the result of the underdog team playing tenacious defense, and out-hustling and out-rebounding the favored team.
In tournament time, you must not rely night after night on winning with 3-point shooting, because when you have an off-night shooting, you're done. You must attack the rim, get the ball inside and get to the free-throw line.
Get players to get over pre-game jitters by telling them that to be nervous is a good thing, to be expected... and they should use that nervous energy early in the game to play tough, hard pressure defense, hustle and dive after loose balls, and be aggressive on the boards for rebounds. If you do the hustle things well, your offense will usually fall into place too. On offense, make the easy pass and avoid turnovers.
Some coaching strategy... finish the quarter with the last shot if you get the chance, especially if you have the possession arrow for the next quarter... this could result in back-to-back baskets for you. Coach Bob Knight recently pointed out on television the importance of finishing the first half... the last 4-5 minutes, and then the importance of starting the second half... the first 4 or 5 minutes.