Sean Rayford, File
March 11, 2016

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Women's college basketball coaches believe a set of rule changes that included switching to a four-quarter format has improved the game's pace and increased the level of strategy.

At least one prominent coach wouldn't mind seeing her male counterparts make a similar move.

''Watching men's basketball, I wish they had some of the rules that we have been implementing this year,'' South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. ''Because when you're looking at strategizing, it's a great way to look at the game. It gives coaches a breath of fresh air in how to strategize to win games.''

Women's games switched from 20-minute halves to 10-minute quarters this season. Another change included awarding teams two free throws after they've been fouled for the fifth time in a quarter. Teams previously went to the bonus for a one-and-one situation after being fouled for the seventh time in a half and got two free throws after the 10th foul.

''I thought it was good for our game,'' Washington coach Mike Neighbors said. ''It seemed our game had better flow.''

Statistically, the effect of the rule changes is most apparent at the foul line.

Division I teams are averaging 17.2 free-throw attempts per game, according to STATS LLC. That's on pace for the lowest average since at least 1981-82, the earliest season included in the NCAA record book.

''The biggest change to me is the foul situation, where you're not shooting one-and-ones and you reset (the foul totals) every quarter, so it really does keep you off the line,'' said Richmond coach Michael Shafer, who led the NCAA rules committee last year when these changes were recommended. ''Where we used to get to seven and would be shooting ... now it resets and you can have more basketball play as opposed to a free-throw shooting contest.''

NCAA spokesman Rick Nixon said Wednesday the average time for Division I games is 1 hour, 48 minutes, relatively unchanged from last year's length of 1:49. The NCAA's data on the subject included only about 36 percent of the games through the end of February because many schools don't include that statistic in their official game files.

Division I teams averaged 64.7 points per game through Sunday, virtually unchanged from last year's average of 64.8, according to STATS.

Coaches said the rule changes have made an impact in other ways that aren't necessarily reflected on stat sheets.

Neighbors noted the quarters format offers more opportunities for teams to try setting up two-for-one situations late in a period. Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said having quarters rather than halves - and resetting the foul totals after each quarter - also gives teams more confidence they can bounce back from a poor stretch.

''If you have a bad quarter, I think you can turn around and make it up in another quarter,'' Warlick said. ''If you do it in a half, you're kind of stuck. Because you get seven fouls, you get 10 fouls (in a half) and there's no reprieve. With quarters, if you have a bad 10-minute segment, all right, forget that and move on to the next quarter.''

The rule changes also reduced media timeouts and limited each team to four timeouts per televised game, down from five last season - one switch that has led to criticism from some coaches. Teams can carry over only three of those timeouts to the second half.

That leads to fewer stoppages in play and can make conditioning an issue.

''I don't like the fact that we get fewer timeouts,'' North Carolina State coach Wes Moore said. ''That, I'm not crazy about.''

Teams also have the opportunity to advance to the frontcourt following a timeout immediately after a made basket in the final minute of the fourth quarter or any overtime periods. That gives teams trailing by a point in the closing seconds much more of an opportunity than if they had to drive the length of the floor for a basket.

''I'll be surprised if it doesn't make an impact in the tournament,'' Shafer said. ''It's one of those things now where I'm watching a men's game and think they should call a timeout and advance (the ball), but they can't. They don't have that rule.''

Whether the men's game ever adopts similar rule changes remains uncertain.

Akron men's coach Keith Dambrot, the head of the NCAA men's basketball rules committee, said a move to quarters was discussed at the committee's last meeting. But he also noted that ''about anything that you could imagine has come up in those meetings.''

''Anything we feel like can positively affect the game or may affect the game is brought up,'' Dambrot said. ''That has been brought up in the past. The one thing I will tell you is that we want to make sure the college game remains distinctive to college basketball and is not totally like the pro game.''

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AP Sports Writers Aaron Beard in North Carolina and Pete Iacobelli in South Carolina contributed to this report.

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