Spurlock Eyes Defensive Improvement

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Tristan Spurlock created this dunk by getting a steal on defense.

Virginia freshman Tristan Spurlock made just his fifth appearance of the season on Monday night when he checked in against NJIT. Spurlock logged a total of five minutes in the 68-37 blowout. Despite the limited court time, however, Spurlock showed signs of improvement and what is currently unlocked potential.

The stat line looked like this in the end: 5 minutes played, 6 points, 3-of-5 shooting (0 of 2 on 3-pointers), 1 rebound and 1 steal. Nothing spectacular, though two dunks in transition did show of his athleticism and hops in the closing moments. Monday’s minutes pushed Spurlock’s season total to 26 and the two dunks gave him 12 points so far in his career.

UVa coach Tony Bennett seemed pleased with the chance to give Spurlock some playing time.

“I was happy for him. He’s athletic in the open court. He got a left-handed dunk and another one,” Bennett said. “I just challenge him to continue to work and keep battling. It sounds like a company line, but the hardest thing as a coach is to look at kids who want to play desperately and work hard and not be able to give them what they want. He has a nice upside certainly and I’m glad that we could carve out some minutes for him and he came in and provided a spark certainly.”

Spurlock liked the second dunk the best. The good news is that his choice had nothing to do with offense, though. He liked the second dunk better because he says he got the preceding steal on defense by being in the right place. In this case, the right place meant sliding into the help gap while guarding a perimeter defender.

That gap responsibility is the area of the Pack-Line defense that gives Spurlock the most difficulty, he says. Unlike the help rotations (one or two feet in the paint depending on the location of the ball) of many defenses with baseline help principles (trying to turn the dribbler to the baseline vs. the middle), Bennett’s system needs