A full-court press takes a great deal of effort, but can be an effective tactic. Often when teams are behind late in a game, they will apply full-court pressure as a means of attempting to produce turnovers as well as tire opponents. Certain teams, such as those coached by Rick Pitino, are known for applying full-court pressure during most of the game. Presses are especially effective against teams with poor ballhandlers, shallow benches (since players become more fatigued attacking a press), or teams with deliberate offenses (since taking the ball up the court can waste a substantial portion of the shot clock). One a press is broken, however, the defensive team is vulnerable to a potential fast break or open three-point opportunity since defensive players may be caught behind the play.
Effective press breaks employ quick passing more often than dribbling to advance the ball up the floor. Short, quick passes are less prone to turnovers than either long passes or dribbling. Another effective way to break a man-to-man press is to pass to the center. Most presses keep a "last man back" (usually the center) whose job is to disrupt a potential fast break resulting from the press; this may leave the offensive center unguarded and able to receive a pass near midcourt.
The figurative sense is 'a vigorous attack or offensive; strong pressure', and is often found in political contexts: "a full-court press for health reform."
The basketball sense of full-court press is first found around 1950; the figurative sense dates from the late 1970s.