Cross-Court Passes Allow Heels to Stretch UVA Defense, Lead


Virginia is well-known for their tough, aggressive defense that forces turnovers and contests every shot by an opposing offense. This defense has played some really good games this season, like holding Harvard to 27 points, Wake Forest to 34 points and FSU to 44 points recently in the ACC Tournament.

Friday night was not UVA’s best defensive night. The Tar Heels were able to beat their swarming defense with cross-court passes that opened up looks for three. These cross-court passes lead to three-point buckets and were a big part of the Tar Heels’ victory last night.

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I want to emphasize that these cross-court passes are feast or famine. When they work, it’s great. You get an open look and send the defense scrambling on a rotation. When they don’t work, however, they lead to turnovers, and a lot of them. Carolina did have a lot of turnovers last night, 18 to be exact, but they were able to feast just enough times to come away with the victory.

I want to look at two examples of the cross-court passes from last night’s game to illustrate the value they had in Carolina’s win. There were a lot of examples, including even the first basket of the game, of the Heels passing and toying with the UVA rotations to find easy buckets. But these two examples led directly to make three-point baskets, so they will serve as good examples for the film study.

First, let’s look at a Justin Jackson three with 17:09 in the second half. (The text above the image describes the image.)

To get to these point in the image below, UNC had just run a dribble handoff with Tokoto and Paige, with Brice Johnson screening and rolling to the basket. Paige is about to receive the ball and send the ball into Brice in the post. Note how that little dribble handoff has sent the UVA defense scrambling a little bit, and Carolina will attack now while the defense is recovering.

Brice gets the ball in the post. Notice how the double team doesn’t come for Brice, but, they double the Carolina big man in the post. This leaves Justin Jackson open on the wing. Brice has his eyes up this entire time and was well prepared before the game to look for this window of opportunity before the double team arrives when he gets the ball in the post. He is about to sling the ball across the court to Jackson on the wing.

Jackson gets a pretty clean look here and most importantly, he drains the shot.

When playing such a good defense, the margins and windows to attack are small. But Brice Johnson did an excellent job of first seeing the floor and secondly making a strong pass to Jackson, who would drain the three.

The next example is a Joel Berry II three with 5:40 in the first half.

Nate Britt and Brice Johnson are running a little screen and roll here. Brice is about to slip into the open space on the baseline because he sees that the UVA big man has aggressively stepped out to Britt to stop the drive.

Brice gets the ball here and the double team comes from the weak side (the tall defender closest to the basket for UVA.) Notice how immediately when Brice gets doubled, Kennedy Meeks cuts to the basket to get open. This option was working all night for the Tar Heels, but this time, the UVA guard, standing at the ACC logo, defends the Meeks rim run.

Brice is processing all this and sees Joel Berry II open out on the wing. Why is he wide open? His man went to cover Meeks, and Meeks’ man went to go double Brice. He recognizes this chain reaction and shoots a pass over to Joel Berry II.

It’s not a great pass, but the ball gets over to Joel Berry II, who pulls up and gets a clean look at three. I’m not sure why the UVA defender didn’t close out with his arms up. Maybe he read the scouting report on Berry II, which had him as a non-shooter, and was more worried about the drive. Berry II took advantage of the extra space and drilled the three.

These are little things that go on over the course of a basketball game. It’s a chess match between the offense and defense that sometimes gets lost in the shuffle of the game. However, in close ballgames in March, those kinds of passes and those kinds of shots make a difference in the final outcome.

(All screenshots from