Dexter Strickland consistently has the toughest job on the defensive end of the basketball court.
North Carolina’s sophomore shooting guard has the assignment of checking the opposing team’s best guard, who is sometimes the opponent’s top scorer.
But for his hard-nosed defense on good players, Strickland doesn’t get the recognition like some of his teammates.
“Nobody thinks they can chase him down from behind,” UNC coach Roy Williams said at a news conference Tuesday. “Nobody enjoys guarding him. Nobody enjoys trying to stop him when he takes it to the basket.
“They understand that he hasn’t gotten the accolades and honors that everybody else has, yet they understand how important he’s been to our team.”
In UNC’s Sweet 16 match against Marquette on Friday, Strickland may cover Golden Eagles guard Darius Johnson-Odom, who averages a team-high 16 points per game.
“Even the last game (against Washington), we had Isaiah Thomas we were really concerned about and put Dexter on him and Kendall (Marshall) on their 2-man,” Williams said.
“It’s hard because sometimes we’re asking him to chase guys around screens like crazy and the next game we’re telling him he’s got to stay in front of the basketball when a guy is quick as lightning.”
Although a freshman, Marshall said he can see improvements in Strickland’s game from last year and can count on his backcourt teammate.
“I think he’s an X factor,” Marshall said. “A lot of things Dexter does doesn’t show up on the stat sheet. He keeps getting these tough matchups but he goes up there and competes for 40 minutes.”
Prior to his 13 points against Washington on Sunday, Strickland had not scored in double figures since the N.C. State game on Feb. 23. He averages 7.4 points and more than two assists per game.
He suffered a knee injury against Florida State in early February, but he kept it under wraps until Williams told the media last week. Williams said he would have surgery after the season, but Strickland said nothing is certain.
“I haven’t decided yet,” Strickland said. “The way it’s feeling now I don’t think I should get it. It’s treating me well. Right now I don’t have soreness at all.”
Strickland still took flight on several occasions late in the season while suffering the knee injury — most notably his dunk over Duke’s Kyle Singler in the ACC tournament championship game that was called a charge.
“He had two magnificent plays in the championship game of the ACC that were unfortunate calls,” Williams said.
“Everybody looks at them later and says, ‘Hmm, that kid didn’t get the benefit of the doubt.’ He’s really done some good things and I think the other players appreciate it, too.”
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