Lady Panthers’ full-court press causing problems for opponents

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By Lance Catchings

For the past four years, the Liberty Hill girls’ basketball team has won almost triple the number of games they’ve lost. Since Head Coach Chris Lange has been at the head of the program, defense has been a staple for the team, specifically the full-court press defense.

The Lady Panthers have transitioned in and out of the press defense almost flawlessly over the last few years. This new group of Lady Panthers is learning the ropes and figuring out why it has been so effective for Liberty Hill over the years.

“Liberty Hill has had a tradition of using the press defense a lot over the past several years,” Lange said. “It is a way to create tempo and create easy offense. It allows you to dictate the pace a little more, and you’re not forced to come down and try to set up an offense. It allows you to create steals, get easy buckets, and it’s a fun way to play.”

A full-court press is a defensive style in which the defense applies pressure to the offense from the initial inbound all the way down the court. Often, if the pressure can force the offensive player to stop dribbling, the defense will attempt to trap the ball handler and force a turnover. A half-court press is the same method, just applied after the offense reaches half court. It can be an effective tactic that Liberty Hill has often used to their advantage.

“Any time I feel like we can get out and press somebody, we are going to spend time doing it,” Lange said. “Sometimes, it is a situational thing. There are times when you can get forced into it at the end of games, and it is also used to change the pace of the game. There have been plenty of times over the years where I look at the other team and wonder why they aren’t pressing us. They may have the athletes to do it, but the district they are in and who they play doesn’t lend itself to that style. In preseason, it is hard to say why teams aren’t pressing. At Liberty Hill, we are willing to try it almost any time we get a chance to do it. It helps if your players are athletic, long and can cover space, because that’s what you’re trying to do.”

For the press to be effective, the team must have not only athleticism, but the ability to remain on the same page. The style of play can be effective if run correctly, but can leave a team susceptible to three-pointers and easy layups if they get beat in the press.

“The basketball IQ of players is often a determining factor,” Lange said. “It is not just about being athletic, because players also need to read the opposing offense and see what they’re trying to get done. You must see where they are trying to move the ball and find out who their best ball handler is. You must anticipate passes and have read and reaction skills. If you can’t do those things, you’re your press will probably not be very good. I have seen athletic teams that can’t press, because they don’t move as a team, or they have players that can’t read and react.”

Often, when teams go into a press, the opposing coach will burn a timeout. Lange does not use this strategy often when they’re on the other side. He prefers to let the girls on the court handle it and work through the challenge the opposition has created if they happen to face a full-court press.

“I want the girls to learn how to handle situations as they arise,” he said. “If I can get away with not calling a timeout, I try to save those. Timeouts are important to have at the end of a ballgame, especially if it’s tight. It is about helping the girls grow as players and them handling different situations. You have a limited number of timeouts, and if you’re constantly burning them to tell them how to do something, you hurt yourself in the long run. There are times when using a timeout is necessary, so it depends on the situation. You spend time at practice going over the situations, but sometimes in the game, it is just about getting them to calm down. The other night, Wall jumped on us for about three possessions. That was a situation I had to call timeout to settle us down, but normally I let them work through it. That way, later in the season when teams do that, we don’t panic and can handle it. It is about growth for our players.”

Lange sets aside time in practice every week to focus on breaking the press offensively, which in turn allows the Lady Panthers to work on their own press.

“The last few weeks, we have worked on handling it and how to break the press, whether it be a man or a zone,” he said. “We need to recognize if it’s a 2-2-1 or a diamond press. We are looking at the ways people press us and how we’ll get out of it. When you work how to break it, you also work on how to run it. In the past years, I have spent more time working on it. This year, we have a young team, so we have so many other things we are working on and trying to get done, as well.”

Defensive fluidity can make or break a close game. Lange believes the more pressure the defense can apply makes it difficult for the opposition to make the right play. The Lady Panthers have been known to press repeatedly in a game and then immediately drop out of it, confusing their opponents.

“When you can transition from a half-court press to a full-court press, it helps you change the flow of the game,” Lange said. “It makes it difficult on your opponent to read it. We do the same thing in transition when we go from a full-court press into a man and a zone press back into a zone. We are constantly trying to keep the other team on their toes. Teams will try to do the same thing with us, too. You must have players that can recognize what is going on and that are on the right page for it to be successful.”

The Lady Panthers have faced some adversity this season, but their strength has remained in their defense.

“I think one of our strong suits this year has been the ability to play multiple defenses, and they have done a good job of it,” Lange said. “It has allowed us to stay in games when our offense has not clicked like we want. We have only had a couple games where we really got outscored, but most nights, if things aren’t going well, our defense has kept us in ballgames. Our defense has managed to get us back in the games that we’ve won. You can always play defense, and the girls understand that. I think the girls like the idea of being able to make a call or a switch and know this will get us back in the game if we stick to it. I am proud of our defense right now, and I think we are making strides in the right direction. With that said, we can always get better.”

As District 27-4A play quickly approaches, the Lady Panthers will stay hard at work improving their defensive prowess as they vie for yet another district championship.

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