Roy Williams discusses loss of Strickland for UNC

acarter@newsobserver.comJanuary 23, 2012 

CHAPEL HILL — As expected, North Carolina coach Roy Williams spent a good portion of his weekly ACC teleconference answering questions about how the Tar Heels plan to compensate for the loss of junior guard Dexter Strickland, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in UNC’s victory at Virginia Tech on Thursday night.

Here’s a summary of what Williams said about filling the void left by Strickland, among other topics:

--Williams described the loss of Strickland as a “big-time loss.” Yes, Williams acknowledged, Strickland was only averaging 7.5 points per game. But the Tar Heels relied on Strickland for much more than just scoring. He rightfully had earned a reputation for being UNC’s best perimeter defender. He was capable of leading the Heels in transition. And, perhaps most important, Strickland served as the backup to Kendall Marshall at point guard.

--So how to replace Strickland? Williams said sophomore guard Reggie Bullock slid into the starting lineup during practice on Sunday. Bullock is likely to stay there, Williams said, “unless something weird happens at practice.” Bullock has basically been the Heels’ sixth man to this point in the season, so his ascension into the starting lineup shouldn’t come as a surprise. Williams raved about his defense after the Virginia Tech game, too.

--As solid as Bullock has been this season, he’s not likely to help UNC any at the point. So what to do there? Williams said the team will rely on Stilman White, the freshman guard, to play some minutes here and there. Williams said Strickland played about three minutes per half at point guard. It’s unclear whether White will be asked to play that much, but it’s clear he’ll be given the chance to step into that role. About White, Williams said “there’s no question” he’d be the first option to give the team some minutes at point guard.

--Of course, Marshall is likely going to have to play more than he has been, too. Through 19 games, Marshall has averaged 31.2 minutes of playing time per game. Williams said, “We have to find some way to get Kendall a little bit of a break out there.”

--Speaking of which, Williams at one point during his call joked that he’d give a couple of his big men a shot at running the point. Williams said, “We’ll try to see what John Henson or Tyler Zeller look like out there.”

--Though Williams acknowledged that the lack of a backup point guard is a problem – and a big one – he also pointed to history as evidence that it’s a problem a team can overcome. During the 2004-05 season, UNC didn’t have much at point guard behind starter Raymond Felton. The Tar Heels went on to win the national championship that season. “We knew that this could happen,” Williams said of being without a real backup at the point. “This has happened.”

--With the loss of Strickland, Williams said other players will have to emerge to fill between 25 and 30 minutes of playing time. Bullock is going into the starting lineup, it appears, but P.J. Hairston is likely to receive more playing time, too. Strickland’s loss could trickle down and lead to more time for James Michael McAdoo and Justin Watts, as well.

--Even with the loss of Strickland, Williams sounded to be in much better spirits than he was a week ago, when he was just days removed from the 90-57 loss at Florida State. Williams opened his teleconference with this: “I feel a heck of a lot better this Monday [than last Monday].”

--Given the Tar Heels didn’t play over the weekend, Williams said one of his priorities was giving his guys some rest. The team didn’t practice Friday or Saturday. UNC practiced Sunday, but won’t practice today. Williams said the Tar Heels were tired after the Florida State game, and that they needed rest. UNC doesn’t have another off weekend – or week – for the rest of the season.

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