Officials set to start reducing physical play in women's basketball by calling more fouls

Get ready for more whistles.

NCAA officials will be enforcing rules more tightly this year. Physical play in the post, on shooters and on ball handlers will no longer be tolerated.

It's all an effort to increase the freedom of movement for players, which coaches hope that will lead to increased scoring.

"We make take a step back early but it's going to help the offense in the long run," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "All the coaches are for it to help improve the game."

It's hard to argue with the numbers. Last season, women's basketball teams shot 39 percent from the field that resulted in an all-time low of 62.1 points per game. That's down nearly eight points from the first year of NCAA play in 1981-82.

Longtime DePaul coach Doug Bruno sent out a letter to his fellow coaches over the summer detailing how the game had become too physical and that making "one change" would help solve some of that problem.

"Let the athletes be athletes," Bruno said. "People need to learn to play defense by moving their feet and not their hands or bodies. It may be a lot of whistles early on, but in the long run it's what the game needs."

Coaches will have to adjust their defense or risk having no one left by the game's end.

"Well, you can expect everyone to play more zone this year," Louisville coach Jeff Walz said. "You're going to need at least two zones or you're going to have no players left."

Walz's team was highlighted more than a few times in a NCAA officiating video that all Division I coaches were required to watch or get fined.

"It's funny because if you look at it, the highest scoring game in the NCAA regional semifinals was our 82-81 win over Baylor and that's the game everyone's talking about," Walz said.

NCAA Women's Basketball Secretary-Rules Editor Debbie Williamson has led officiating clinics across the country over the past month to reinforce the new plan to the referees. Major points of emphasis that will be enforced to improve freedom of movement are:

— A defender can no longer keep a constant hand or forearm on the opponent.

— A defender can't use an arm-bar to impede an opponent's progress.

— A defender can't place two hands on the opponent.

Consistency was the key word being discussed at the clinics. Clinicians were stressing how the calls couldn't just be made in November and December but also had to be made in conference play and in the NCAA tournament.

"It's what the coaches want and what the game needs," Williamson said at the Philadelphia clinic. "The only thing that can be really bad is if you start blowing whistles early on and stop in the new year. Or you blow them in the northeast and not the southeast. It has to be consistent."

The NCAA also adopted a few new rules for this season to try and help the pace of the game, including adding a 10-second backcourt rule to the women's game. The rule requires the offensive team to move the ball past midcourt within 10 seconds. Failure to do so results in a turnover. Under current rules, teams can take as much time off the 30-second shot clock as they want before crossing midcourt.


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