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UNC/NCSU notes: Points, steals and spirits

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- North Carolina guards P.J. Hairston and Reggie Bullock spent extra time in the gym Monday night, putting up jumpers, scrimmaging one-on-one, working to create their own shots.

With starting shooting guard Dexter Strickland out for the rest of the season because of a knee injury, Hairston says the duo knows it will need to contribute more, especially in one key aspect.

“Without a doubt, [Strickland] is our best on-the-ball defender, and that’s what our big role has to be: defense first,’’ Hairston said Tuesday. “And that’s the main thing that I’m working on is focusing on defense more and trying to stay with my man, because I’m going to have to guard 2-guards more, and I have to focus better on defense.”

Coach Roy Williams has said that Bullock, a sophomore, will move into the opening five when the eighth-ranked Tar Heels play NC State on Thursday. He’s improved on defense, and will give UNC’s backcourt more of an outside scoring presence than Strickland, who got most of his 7.5 ppg in transition.

“I think it will give them a new dimension,’’ said NC State guard Scott Wood, the Wolfpack's leading scorer. “It will open things up for [John] Henson and [Tyler] Zeller if they can knock down some open shots. It could definitely make them a better offensive team.”

By the way, the winner of that one-on-one game Monday night?

“It was even,” Hairston said. “I won about three and Reggie won about three. Each time one of us lost, we got mad and won the next one. It’s always competitive with me and Reggie.”

STEALING THE SPOTLIGHT: Wolfpack point guard Lorenzo Brown leads the ACC, and ranks 50th in the nation, in steals at 2.0 per game. Why?

“My arms are long, and my hands are active most of the time,’’ the 6-foot-5 sophomore said. “I look at the ball most of the time, I’m not trying to follow my defender.”

Brown said he’s tried to improve his defense this year, after the Wolfpack’s new coaching staff told him at the beginning of the season that he didn’t play it very well, or up to his capabilities. “So I’ve been trying to prove it to them,” he said.

Thursday will be another test, as he matches up with UNC starter Kendall Marshall, one of the best passers in the nation.

“I think you just have to keep a hand up in front of his face, so he can’t see where his teammates are --because that’s who he goes to,’’ Brown said. “His teammates are great scorers, so you’ve got to try ... to make it hard for him to get the ball to them.”

Swiping it in the process? That would be an added benefit.

“Last year, I wasn’t as active as I am this year, and I’m more vocal with my teammates,’’ said Brown, who is also averaging 12.4 points, 6.9 assists and 4.3 rebounds. “And that helps.”

STRICKLAND IN GOOD SPIRITS: Hairston said Strickland -- who tore his ACL at Virginia Tech last Thursday -- has been joking around the locker room, even teasing Bullock that he might have to play point guard.

“He acts like it never even happened, that his knee’s not bothering him,’’ Hairston said. “But I know deep down inside he’s hurting, that he really wants to play. But he’s still being a good team player, still motivating us to do good things on the court.”

Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.