Tudor: Bullock steps into role - and steps up

Staff WriterJanuary 30, 2012 

— Through two games, the loss of Dexter Strickland and the promotion of Reggie Bullock to a starting wing-guard role hasn't harmed North Carolina's defense at all.

After shutting down N.C. State's Scott Wood on Thursday at the Smith Center, Bullock was back at it Sunday against Georgia Tech's Glen Rice Jr.

Not that the seventh-ranked Tar Heels (18-3, 5-1 ACC) needed an extra serving of anything to erase the Yellow Jackets (8-13, 1-6), but Bullock's defense again was an unexpected bonus in a 93-81 win.

By converting 10 of 16 attempts on 3-pointers and getting 12 assists from playmaker Kendall Marshall, the Tar Heels were challenged no more than they were against the Wolfpack.

But when Strickland was lost for the season to a knee injury at Virginia Tech on Jan. 19, the concern among Carolina fans was the drain it would take on the team's already-questionable defense.

Without much question, the 6-foot-3 Strickland is the team's best on-ball defender and among the quickest players in the ACC.

Bullock, a 6-7 sophomore from Kinston, is known more for offense and perimeter shooting, which he's delivered with 11 points against the Yellow Jackets and 11 in the 74-55 win against State.

But his work on Wood (11 points, eight missed field goals) and Rice (four points) helped turn both games into UNC routs more than his outside shooting.

"It's a bonus, but I've said all year that Reggie's gotten better and better defensively," UNC coach Roy Williams said. "He has the length. He doesn't have the quickness and speed that Dexter does, and at the same time we know Rice was hobbling around. He was hurt.

"But I think Reggie did a nice job defensively. In fact, at the State game I think he was the defensive player of the game."

A year ago, Bullock was going through what Strickland is experiencing now. He had knee surgery shortly after an injury at Maryland on Feb. 27 ended his season. Bullock had averaged 8.1 points in 27 games and his loss took a toll on Carolina's perimeter offense in the postseason.

"During the time I didn't play, I made a pledge to myself to get better on defense this season," Bullock said. "I spent a lot of time working on it. I know it's something I can use to help the team and make me better and more complete as a player."

Marshall said that while the loss of Strickland was a blow in all areas, there was no doubt that Bullock would step up on defense.

"His defense is extremely underrated," Marshall said. "He has good feet, quick feet to get through screens. Now, people are paying attention to it. They're seeing how good a defender he is."

Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory said Bullock didn't strike him as a "great defender," but emphasized Bullock does follow the general Carolina defensive theme.

"Overall, they defend you with length and Bullock is long and strong," Gregory said.

Long term, there's still a chance Bullock and freshman P.J. Hairston will have trouble against smaller, quicker wing guards, particularly those with more experience against facing long defenders. Duke, Maryland and Virginia could have the personnel to create that sort of problem.

For now, there's been no recognizable defensive void. Bullock has passed two important tests and, if anything, the Carolina offense has become more potent as the result of his shooting range.

Tudor: 919-829-8946

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