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Quick Guide to WNBA Rules

The Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) is a professional basketball league in the United States, showcasing some of the best female basketball talent in the world. Understanding the rules of the WNBA can enhance your enjoyment of the game, whether you’re a player, a fan, or a spectator. This comprehensive guide covers all the essential rules of the WNBA, from the basics of gameplay to specific regulations.

The Basics of Basketball

The Court: A WNBA court is 94 feet long and 50 feet wide, with a basket at each end. The court is divided into two main sections: the backcourt and the frontcourt.

Objective: The objective of the game is to score more points than the opposing team by shooting the basketball through the opponent’s hoop.

Quarters: A WNBA game consists of four 10-minute quarters. If the game is tied at the end of regulation, it goes to overtime periods of five minutes each until a winner is determined.

The Gameplay

Teams: Each team has five players on the court at a time. Substitutions can be made during stoppages in play.

Tip-Off: The game begins with a jump ball at center court, where the referee tosses the ball up between two opposing players who jump to tip it to their teammates.

Dribbling: Players must dribble the ball while moving. Double dribbling, or starting to dribble again after stopping, is a violation.

Shooting: Players score by shooting the ball through the opponent’s hoop. A field goal is worth two points, or three points if shot from beyond the three-point line.

Violations and Fouls

Traveling: Moving with the ball without dribbling, resulting in a turnover.

Three-Second Rule: An offensive player cannot remain in the key (the area under the basket) for more than three seconds.

Backcourt Violation: Once the ball crosses the midcourt line into the frontcourt, it cannot be passed or dribbled back into the backcourt.

Personal Foul: Contact with an opponent that impedes their movement or play. Players are disqualified after committing six personal fouls.

Technical Foul: Unsportsmanlike conduct or violations by players or coaches, resulting in free throws and possession for the opposing team.

Free Throws

Free Throws: Awarded after certain fouls, each successful free throw is worth one point.

Bonus Situation: After a team commits five team fouls in a quarter, the opposing team is awarded two free throws for each subsequent foul.

Time-Related Rules

Shot Clock: Teams have 24 seconds to attempt a shot that hits the rim. Failure to do so results in a shot clock violation.

Game Clock: The clock stops during dead balls, fouls, and timeouts, and runs continuously during live play.

Timeouts: Each team is allowed a certain number of timeouts per game, used to stop the clock and strategize.


Overtime: If the game is tied at the end of regulation, a five-minute overtime period is played. The process repeats until a winner is determined.


Games are officiated by a crew of referees who enforce the rules, call fouls and violations, and ensure fair play.

Differences from NBA Rules

  • Quarter Length: WNBA quarters are 10 minutes long, compared to 12 minutes in the NBA.
  • Overtime Period: Overtime periods are 5 minutes in both the WNBA and NBA.
  • Foul Limit: Players are disqualified after six personal fouls in the WNBA, compared to five in college basketball.

Understanding these rules is crucial for fully appreciating and enjoying the Women’s National Basketball Association. Whether you’re watching a game or playing in a league, keeping these guidelines in mind will help you engage with the sport more deeply and play with greater skill.

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