Five Possessions: Oregon Ducks Zone Concepts

By Randy Sherman

March 31, 2019: The Oregon Ducks backcourt of Oregon Ducks guard Sabrina Ionescu (20), Oregon Ducks forward Ruthy Hebard (24), and Oregon Ducks forward Satou Sabally (0) watch a free throw during the NCAA Women's Championship Elite 8 game between the Oregon Ducks and the Mississippi State Bulldogs at the Moda Center, Portland, Oregon. Larry C. Lawson/CSM(Credit Image: © Larry C. Lawson/CSM via ZUMA Wire)

#FivePossessions – Five curated possessions from the Oregon Ducks where they demonstrate valuable Zone Offense concepts.

(Note: In this new series entitled #FivePossessions, we’ll take a look at five possessions featuring a team or player and dive into a particular topic. First up, Zone Offense from Oregon Ducks Women’s Basketball.)

The Oregon Ducks have one of the most potent offenses in NCAA Women’s Basketball. Their skill and shooting make them hard to guard in any defense, particularly zone defense where their passing and shooting are on full display.

In these five possessions, the Ducks demonstrate some timeless zone principles. Each of these are featured in the video below:


Possession #1 – Hi-Lo

In the first possession, Oregon demonstrates the classic Hi-Lo game from a traditional alignment. They “penetrate with the pass” with a high post entry then read the defense for an easy look.

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Some tips for an effective Hi-Lo game:

  • Face Up! – When the high post catches, face the basket and look for shot first
  • Dump Down! – In the diagram drawn from the events in Possession #1, the Center (X5) contests the shot, but the Forward (X4) did not “pinch” down fast enough to prevent the Hi-Lo pass through the passing window
  • Beware of False Daylight – Against great zone teams, the forwards will pinch on airtime and the passing window will vanish
  • Player 5 with back to the baseline, makes a “twist move” on the inside pivot foot THEN power dribbles into a power layup
  • Sealing Out – Against teams who “pinch” effectively, consider teaching Player 5 to “Butt Seal” X4 out as they pinch down

Possession #2 – Weakside Fan

Teams with active Forward play, will take away the dump down to the player behind the zone. Often, this leaves them vulnerable to the Weakside Fan; an example of inside-out Basketball demonstrated in the second possession.

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Tips for the Weakside Fan:

  • Fan Out! – After you have faced up and declined to dump down look to “fan it out” to the weakside
  • Quick Decision – With the ball inside the defense, space will collapse quickly
  • Find a Gap – Player 3 above must fit into the gap between X1 and X3. Form a perfect triangle
  • Catch to Shoot – The penalty for over-collapsing is a three. This is an opportunity for a catch-and-shoot three. If the defense closes out, attack the closeout, but don’t hold it!
  • 1v1 – Some zone teams matchup on the high post entry (“When the ball goes in, we go out”). This presents an opportunity to go 1v1 versus the Center (X5)

Possession #3 – Gap Dribble

In the third possession, Oregon shows us the benefits of attacking a gap between zone defenders with the dribble. Even if you do not split the zone, the Gap Dribble can draw two and create an advantage for a teammate.

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Tips for the Gap Dribble:

  • Split the Zone – The goal is to split the zone with the dribble; you may have to jumpstop through the gap
  • One-Hand Pass – A one-hand pass off the dribble may be needed to pass out of the double the gap dribble creates
  • Back it Out – If you cannot split the zone and the pass feels unsafe, retreat dribble

Possession #4 – Misdirection Pass

In the fourth possession, the Ducks show us how the zone responds to ball movement. Exploiting the movement in the direction of the pass with a Misdirection Pass creates an open three.

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Misdirection Tips:

  • Against the Grain – In the diagram above, the defense responds to the pass from Player 2 on the wing to Player 1 at the point by sliding in the direction of the pass. In the normal rhythm of zone offense, Player 1 would continue to reverse the ball to Player 3. But above, Player 1 passes “against the grain” of the movement creating a catch with an advantage for Player 2
  • Pass Fake – Using a pass fake can exaggerate the effects of misdirection. Pass fake with the grain of the movement and then pass against it

Possession #5 – Pin & Skip

In the fifth possession, Oregon screens the zone to create an advantage. The Pin & Skip creates a driving lane and an easy two.

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Tips for the Pin & Skip:

  • Screening Angle – Player 4 screens with their butt to the sideline.
  • Beware the Weakside Forward – Teams often put a great athlete on the offensive left to intercept skips
  • Drive to the Outside – The drive to the outside of any piece of the zone gives the zone fits! Here Player 1 is able to beat X2 to the outside with the help of the pin screen. This creates a driving lane and multiple 2v1 opportunities
  • “One More” it – If the forward flies out to the player receiving the skip make “one more” pass to the wing

In these five possessions Oregon shows us some simple zone concepts which can be introduced to your players. They each reflect an understanding of how the zone behaves and use that behavior against the zone. Comment below with your favorite of these five possessions!

Continue the conversation:

For help with practice planning and implementation of an zone offense attack featuring these concepts for finding, using and creating offensive advantages please contact us and/or join our community for basketball coaches!

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Randy Sherman
Randy Sherman is the owner and founder of Radius Athletics - a basketball coaching consulting firm - where he consults with basketball coaches at all levels on coaching philosophy, practice planning, Xs & Os and teaching a conceptual style of basketball. While a head basketball coach at the the interscholastic level, Sherman's teams won 197 games in nine seasons.
Randy Sherman

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March 31, 2019: The Oregon Ducks backcourt of Oregon Ducks guard Sabrina Ionescu (20), Oregon Ducks forward Ruthy Hebard (24), and Oregon Ducks forward Satou Sabally (0) watch a free throw during the NCAA Women’s Championship Elite 8 game between the Oregon Ducks and the Mississippi State Bulldogs at the Moda Center, Portland, Oregon. Larry C. Lawson/CSM(Credit Image: © Larry C. Lawson/CSM via ZUMA Wire)
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