Guard to Guard to Forward: UCLA Cut DVD by John Wooden, Swen Nater
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John Wooden's UCLA Offense

Book Excerpt - Guard to Guard to Forward: UCLA Cut*

From John Wooden's UCLA Offense by John Wooden, Swen Nater

The 1968 to 1969 season ended with a fifth NCAA championship flag being raised to the rafters of Pauley Pavilion. And the next year began with the daunting task of trying to fill the shoes of three departed starters from that title-winning team: Lewis Alcindor, Lynn Shackelford, and Kenny Heitz.

Without a dominant inside center, we shelved the high-low offense and returned to the high-post offense in preparing for the 1969 to 1970 season. Given the team’s talents, we decided to make low-post play the priority and to let out-side shooting come as a result of outside defenders dropping down to help. Many plays and options were suited to this group, but we needed to select a main play within the offense’s structure. That play was the pass from guard to guard to forward, followed by the UCLA cut.

Base Play

As with most plays, the UCLA cut can be run to either side, though we slightly favored the right because post players are generally right handed and, therefore, more experienced and effective on the left block. It is best to assign each forward—and the guards for that matter—a primary side of the floor (the side where they are most effective). Although the offense is designed to direct the ball to a specific side, in the course of reading the defense and using options, that may change. But, for the main play, players should be positioned in the areas where they operate best.

The play is initiated by 1 bringing the ball into the frontcourt aggressively and driving directly at his defender. Player 2 fakes in and comes back out two to three feet farther from the basket than 1. Without hesitation, unless 2 is overplayed, 1 passes to 2. Player 4 has faked a cut to the basket and comes out to the wing. Player 2 passes to 4. Player 5, who has faked away and come back before the pass, prepares to screen by turning his back to 2. Player 2 uses 5’s screen to get open in the key or at the low post. This is the signature move of the UCLA cut. Player 3 quickly moves down to the weak-side post, keeping his defender busy so he can’t help on 2 (see figure 5.1).

Player 2 using 5’s screen is a very important component of the play for two reasons. First, it is a good opportunity for the guard to get open for an easy shot. More important, it is the initial vertical penetrating move by the offense, and if done correctly, it will cause the defense to drop toward the basket, allowing a pass to the high post. Coaches must emphasize that each time the UCLA cut is run, the guard should be doing his very best to get open for a score; at no time should it be reduced to a move where the guard is simply going through the motions. Haphazard UCLA cuts hinder the ball from moving to the high post because the center’s defender is not tempted to help prevent the layup.

Because of its importance, the UCLA cut must be perfected. As mentioned, the entire responsibility for getting open rests on the shoulders of the guard. The center has turned his back, and to prevent picking up an offensive foul, he is stationary. Above anything, the guard is looking for a layup. He looks for the pass from the forward. The forward never holds the ball over his head; he fakes down and usually makes the two-handed overhead pass to the cutting guard.

But a layup for the guard will not happen often. Most coaches teach their defenders to jump to the basketball and go to the ball side of a high-post screen, staying between the ball and their assignment. The guard takes his man directly toward the center (5) to the point where he almost touches him. At that point, he reads the defense and makes his move. If his man leans toward the key, he fakes that way and cuts over the top, along the side of the lane, looking for the pass for the layup. If his man plays toward the ball, he fakes that way and cuts behind the center, into the key, looking for the lob. If his man jumps behind the screen, the guard pops out looking for the jump shot.

If 4 does not pass to 2, he looks for 5 at the high post. Immediately after 2 uses his screen, 5 follows 2 for one step and then comes back out hard, no farther than 17 feet from the basket. He must time his cut so that he will be open after 4 has given 2 a good look. He receives the basketball, reverse pivots to maintain vision of the key area, and immediately looks for 3. Player 3 has set his man up by faking a cut across the bottom of the key and has changed direction to move into the middle of the key in front of his man (see figure 5.2). Player 5 executes one of two passes: the one-handed push pass or the overhead pass. If using the one-handed push pass, he may use an air or bounce pass. Regardless of which pass he employs, he pass fakes to set it up.

After passing to 5, 4 takes one step toward 5 and then changes direction toward the block, where he screens for 2 by turning with his backside toward the basket. Because both players know the screen will be set on the block, 2 can set his man up accordingly by faking into the key and cutting to the perimeter on a line crossing the bottom of the block (see figure 5.3). Player 5 passes to 2 for the jump shot and makes a cut toward the basket.

The weak-side low-post player can do a lot to make the pass to 2 successful. Not only will his flash into the key draw attention, but a cut up the side of the lane will also. And, if 2 receives the ball for the shot, the weak-side forward can quickly reverse and obtain excellent offensive rebounding position.

When looking for 3 in the deep post, 5 may see a defensive overplay. Against prepared defenses, this will happen. Player 1 has moved over to the left side to create a triangle and has faked in and come out to be an outside shooting threat, occupying his man so he can’t help on 3. Player 3 seals his man toward 5, and 5 passes to 1, who looks for 3 inside.

Player 4’s first passing option is to 2 using 5’s screen, and his second option is to 5 at the high post. His third option is to 1, who fakes in and comes out to the strong-side free throw lane extended. Player 4 passes to 1. Player 3 fakes across the bottom of the key and comes to the side post. Player 1 passes to 3. Player 1 cuts directly toward 3, and if his defender plays toward the key, 1 comes over the top and looks for a handoff pass from 3. Meanwhile, 4 and 5 move to the weak-side block to set a double screen for 2 (see figure 5.4). This screen must be timed perfectly; 2 must be open when 3 is ready to pass. If 3 is still occupied in the side-post game, the double screen is useless. It is 2’s responsibility to make his move at the correct time. Of course, if 3 hands off to 1, there will be no pass to 2. Nevertheless, 2 comes off the screen to the weak-side wing and is now the protector if a shot is taken from the strong side.

* To reprint this excerpt with permission from Human Kinetics Publishers, Inc., please contact the publicity department at 1-800-747-4457 or

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