Williams expects Bullock back in UNC’s lineup
North Carolina expects to have its full complement of players when it opens conference play Sunday at Virginia (8 p.m., ESPNU).
Starting small forward Reggie Bullock was cleared to practice Friday for the first time since he collided with power forward James Michael McAdoo on Dec. 27 and suffered a concussion, and Williams said he was “cautiously optimistic” that the junior would play against the Cavaliers (10-3).
“Reggie was able to go through about half of practice,” Williams said Friday. “And if he doesn’t have any headaches or any recurrence of symptoms that they worry about in a concussion, I would expect him to completely practice tomorrow. And if he does the same thing after that, I would expect him to play on Sunday.”
Bullock is second on the team in both points (13.1) and rebounds (5.7) and leads the ACC in 3-point accuracy (47.5 percent). He knocked into McAdoo while trying to deflect a long pass on the first practice after Christmas for UNC (10-3), meaning Friday was only the second time since Dec. 22 that Bullock has been on the court.
“He was a little tired running sprints, because he hasn’t been running, obviously, but he looked good,” UNC senior Dexter Strickland said. “His shot’s still good, and I’m pretty sure he’s looking forward to playing on Sunday.”
P.J. Hairston started in place of Bullock this past Saturday against UNLV and recorded 15 points, four rebounds, four steals and no turnovers in UNC’s 79-73 win. Still, Williams said that if Bullock doesn’t suffer a setback, he will be back in the lineup at Virginia.
“If he can practice, doesn’t have the headaches, doesn’t throw up any red flags, I’ll start him on Sunday because he didn’t lose the position by someone beating him out,” Williams said. “He just banged heads with the wrong guy.”
Williams said he also expects to start Desmond Hubert for a third straight game after the sophomore center played a career-high 20 minutes against UNLV, making his only field goal attempt and recording three rebounds and three blocks.
“(Hubert) was the most comfortable that he’s been the entire time,” Williams said. “He went brain dead one time today, but other than that he’s had better practices, too. Right now, I’d expect that Desmond will start unless he makes me mad between now and then or Joel (James) makes 12 shots in a row or Brice (Johnson) does some good things.”
James and Johnson, both freshmen, have combined to make five starts this season.
While UNC may be solidifying it’s starting lineup, Virginia’s is still in flux. Senior point guard Jontel Evans has missed nine games with a foot injury, and Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett said Thursday it was “hard to say” whether he would face the Tar Heels.
Evans made the ACC all-defensive team last season and was third in assists (4.2) and steals (1.6) during conference play.