How Many Periods Make Up a Basketball Game? NBA vs NCAA

how many periods in basketball

Have you ever noticed that basketball games are made up of either four periods or two halves, depending on the level of basketball? 

This can be confusing, especially if you’re new to the game and not familiar with each league. Our goal with this article is to clear up any confusion about how many periods each league plays.

A basketball game typically has two halves of two periods each. Teams get a quick breather in between periods and a longer halftime break after the second period. Learn more about basketball’s periods here.

How Many Minutes Total in a Basketball Game?

The total number of minutes played in a basketball game varies from league to league. There are different rules for high school, college, and the NBA. We’ll dive into the minutes for the NBA, WNBA, NCAA, and high school basketball.

NBA games last 48 minutes, the longest of any basketball league. Both men’s and women’s NCAA games last 40 minutes. WNBA games are also 40 minutes long. 

Any games sanctioned by the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) are 40 minutes long, including basketball games for The Olympics. The majority of high school basketball games are 32 minutes long but that also depends on the league rules.

Number of Periods in an NBA Game

NBA games are divided into four separate periods (often called quarters) and each period is exactly 12 minutes long. The players get a quick two and a half to three and a half minute breather after the first and third periods are completed. The length of the break depends on if the game is nationally televised or not. 

After the second period ends, players get a halftime break of 15 minutes before the third period begins. Halftime breaks give the players a chance to rest up and get hydrated as the coaches strategize for the second half.

Number of Periods in an NCAA Men’s Game

College basketball games are a little bit different from NBA games. In NCAA Men’s Basketball games, there aren’t four periods but simply two halves of basketball. This different format often challenges the players’ endurance level since there aren’t as many stoppages of play to rest off the court. 

Each half lasts for twenty minutes and there is a 15-minute break for halftime before the second half starts. A men’s college game is 40 minutes long unless the game is tied and goes to an overtime period.

Interestingly enough, NCAA Men’s basketball experimented with four periods during the 1951-52 and 1954-55 seasons. The rule was changed back to two twenty-minute halves shortly after each season.

Number of Periods in an NCAA Women’s Game

Women’s college basketball has different rules from men’s college basketball. NCAA Women’s games are made up of four 10-minute quarters. This new rule took effect in the 2015-2016 NCAA Women’s season. Before this change, women’s college basketball played two twenty-minute halves just like the men do. 

Halftime for women’s games is also 15 minutes long. Like the men’s games, women’s games are also 40 total minutes long unless overtime is needed.

Number of Periods in a High School Game

Most high school basketball games are 32 minutes long. Four periods of eight minutes each are played. After the second period has ended, a halftime break of 10 to 15 minutes takes place.

Overtime Length

The NBA, WNBA, NCAA Men’s, and NCAA Women’s all have five-minute overtime periods if the game is tied at the end of regulation. High school basketball uses an overtime period that is four minutes long.

Average Length of Time it Takes to Complete a Basketball Game

Have you ever noticed that you can watch a high school game in person a whole lot faster than you can watch an NBA game on TV? A high school game is usually over in only an hour and a half while an NBA game can take up to two and a half hours to watch. Here are some of the reasons for that.

1. Number of Minutes

Like we mentioned above, NBA games are 48 minutes long while high school basketball games are only 32 minutes long. That 16 minutes may not sound like a big difference. 

However, when we break it down math-wise, that equates to the NBA games being 50% longer than high school games.

2. TV Timeouts

Another reason NBA games take so much longer than high school basketball games is TV timeouts. All NBA games are televised, so many commercial breaks are needed to run TV ads.

High school basketball games are never televised, with the rare exception of two powerhouse programs on ESPN every once in a great while.

3. Number of Timeouts

During an NBA game, each team is allotted seven timeouts. Each timeout can last up to 75 seconds.

During a high school basketball game, each team is only allotted five timeouts and two of those are only 30 seconds long. That equates to an NBA game having four more stoppages of play than a high school game just due to the number of timeouts alone.


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