Amoeba Defense

The "Amoeba" defense was developed by coach Jerry Tarkanian at the University of Las Vegas and played a significant role in UNLV's 1990 NCAA Championship. It is an aggressive, trapping, match-up zone defense ran out of an 1-1-3 alignment. It can be used at various times during a game to disrupt and confuse opponents.

In the amoeba, the defender guarding the player with the ball exerts extreme pressure while the other four defenders zone. Becasue of its aggressive outside rotations, it does require quick guards. However, when executed, it will definitely result in steals and easy transition baskets.

Initial Alignment

When opponents bring balls up the court, the point guard is responsible for picking up and pressuring ballhandler near midcourt. X2 stationed at the free throw line protecting against high post flash cuts, has first pass responsibility to either wing. Wings X3 and X4 are half way between the free throw line and baseline and post X5 protects the basket area.

Basic Amoeba Alignment

Wing Pass Entries

When the ball is entered to the wing, X2 closes out quickly and pressures the ballhandler. Wing X3 fronts the post. Post X5 moves to the low post area denying any lob pass. X4 after disrupting O5’s high post flash cut, assumes a low Helpside “I” position. Point X1 drops to high post area.

Pass to Right Wing

Corner Pass Match Up

X3 steps out and pressures ballhandler. X2 denies the return pass. X5 fronts the low post. X1 and X4 assume Helpside I positions.


Corner Pass Rotations

Corner Trap Option

"Follow Pass"

As wing O2 passes the ball to the corner, defender X2 follows the pass and traps the corner with X3. The non-trapping defenders form a Triangle “I.” Point guard assuming a high Triangle “I” denying any passes into the high post area. X5 fronts the low post. The weakside wing X4 moves to the low Triangle "I" position denying any long lob pass.
On pass out of trap, quick near player rotations take place as the ball leaves the passer’s hands.

Corner Trap

Wing Trap Option

"Trap on Wing Dribble"

When the wing initiates a dribble, X3 sprints out and traps O2 with X2. The non-trapping defenders form a Triangle “I” with X5 fronting the low post. X1 assuming the high I position and X4 assuming a low high Helpside position.


Wing Trap

Post/Wing Exchange ("X Cut")

When the wing passes to the corner out of the trap, X5 sprints out and pressures the receiver X3 dives to the low post area and fronts the post completing a X-Cut”. X1 and X4 assume Helpside I positions.
Note: Often times the ballhandler in the corner, under pressure, will not see X3’s drop and will make a pass to the low post which is easily intercepted by X3.


X- Cut

Skip Pass Out of Corner

If the corner makes a cross court pass to the opposite wing, defender X4 anticipating the pass, quickly closes out. X3 fronts the low post. X5 provides back side support on the post taking away the lob pass. X2 drops to the low Helpside I position.
Note: On this close out rotation, X2 and X4 exchange roles and X3 changes sides.


Skip Pass Out of Corner Trap

Ball Reversal

Return Pass to Point

On a reversal pass out to the point, X1 must hesitate one count before closing out to hard pressure on the ball handler in order to allow X2 time to get to the high post area.

Ball Reversal Pass to Point

Guard/Wing Interchange

When O1 passes to wing O3, X4 closes out quickly and exerts pressure on the ballhandler. Defender X5 fronts the low post. X3 takes away the lob pass. X1 drops to the high post area and X2 drops to the low Helpside I position.


Ball Reversal Pass to Opposite Wing

Cross Court Skip Pass

On cross court passes the weakside wing X2 anticipating the pass closes out quickly on the receiver. Defender X3 fronts the low post. X5 takes away the lob post pass. X4 drops to the low Helpside I position and X1 defends the high post area.


Wing to Wing Skip Pass

vs. Two Guard Front

Matching Up

When the opponent deploys a two guard front, Defenders X1 and X2 matchup. If there is a high post, defender X5 plays behind encouraging a pass to the high post.


Two Guard Front Matchup

Triple Team

When the ball is passed into the high post, X1 and X2 immediately drop back and triple team the post with X5 causing the high post to panic and turn the ball over on a violation or bad pass.
Defenders X3 and X4 close off the passing lanes to the wings going for steals whenever possible.


High Post Triple Team

Wing Pass Matchups

When the post does manages to pass out to the wing, X3 pressures the receiver hard. Defender X1 denies the passing lane back out to guard O1. X5 drops to the low post area while X2 covers the high post area. Defender X4 assumes a low Helpside I position.
Note: X1 has the option of following the pass and executing a hard double team on the wing.


Pass Out of High Post Trap Matchups