Kris’ Monday Musings – Ball Screen D

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Coach Tony Bennett’s team is struggling to defend on-ball screens.

With 4:20 to play in Virginia’s game at Auburn on Monday night, coach Tony Bennett stopped the action after the Tigers drained a 3-pointer to take a 66-58 lead. The called timeout was to address Auburn’s success with on-ball screens against the Pack-Line defense. The answer? A 3-2 zone, the first appearance of any kind of zone during Bennett’s tenure.

The move worked. The Tigers did not score again until Brendon Knox’s tip-in with 1.4 seconds gave the hosts a 68-67 win. Color commentator Cory Alexander asked Coach Bennett about the zone in the Virginia Sports Network’s postgame radio interview.

“I have [used a zone] at times. We right now aren’t at the place where defensively we need to be to compete against the high level teams and I think you have to look at ways to supplement at times,” Bennett said. “We were having trouble so we went to that. We had worked on it a little bit in practice and it gave us a lift. Did they get some good looks out of it? Yeah, but they stood and it stopped them from doing as much of their ball-screening stuff so it served its purpose, enough to give us a chance at the victory.”

As Bennett alluded to in his response, the bigger issue is the fact that the zone was necessary. Auburn’s abuse of the ball-screen defense is part of a recurring theme for the Cavaliers this season. All the way back to the Longwood opener, UVa has had trouble dealing with on-ball screens and the Pack-Line’s different approach to that offensive action.

The Hoos’ players inconsistently defend that play. They often slip back to old tendencies with the screener’s defender hedging too hard to stop the dribbler. Hedging, in general, means jumping away from your man to help slow down the dribbler. Hedging hard usually means turning your body perpendicular to the dribbler, the idea being to fully stop the ball handler from proceeding on the same path. Hard hedges have become a staple of pressure man-to-man