Jerryd Bayless dribbled off the final five seconds, handed the ball to the official and didn’t crack a smile.
The Arizona freshman point guard, having completed his game with 18 points, five assists and only one turnover in 34 minutes, had missed two free throws in the final minute, keeping NAU within striking distance.
When he went to the sideline for a timeout with 24 seconds left, he slowly shook his head back and forth. When he came back to the court after the timeout, he was still muttering and shaking his head.
All in all, it was a solid college debut for Bayless, but he’s like the rest of the Wildcats. Interim head coach Kevin O’Neill has been saying this team needs to make a lot of improvement. No kidding. And a couple of more big men couldn’t hurt, either.
Arizona held on to win 76-69 at McKale Center after squandering almost all of a 16-point second-half lead, dominated down low late in the game by a team from the Big Sky Conference.
No smiles tonight, fellas. Take Wednesday off and see ya back on the practice court Thursday.
“We need to learn to kill somebody when we have them down like that,” Bayless said. “There’s no reason why they should have been able to come back on us.”
As for Bayless, he had his good and bad moments, which is to be expected from a freshman, even one as highly hyped as the kid from Phoenix St. Mary’s High.
The good: his defense. He guarded NAU point guard Josh Wilson most of the night, and Wilson scored only two points against Bayless, squirming to the basket for a tough layup in the first half.
Bayless made a key stop with about four minutes left and UA up by five.
Wilson, trying to drive down the lane, went right, went left and then went in the air. Bayless was right there, and Wilson, flummoxed, threw the ball away for a turnover.
“Jerryd, I thought, for a freshman performed very well for his opening game,” O’Neill said. “He was really good defensively. He played hard the entire night.”
The bad: His shooting. He missed his first shot, a jumper in the lane, 40 seconds into the game. He missed his first 3-pointer. His first UA points came with 14:01 left in the first half when he hit 2 of 3 free throws after being fouled on a 3-pointer.
Bayless ended up hitting 5 of 14 shots, 2 of 6 from behind the arc, and just 6 of 12 free throws. Two of the misses came with 32.7 seconds left.
“Yeah, that made me mad because I usually don’t miss free throws,” he said. “Last year in high school, I shot 90 percent from the free-throw line and now I come in and miss two in a row. That is kind of an abstract thought to me, I guess. Made me a little mad at the end.”
What we saw from Bayless in his first game was that he is able to penetrate and get fouled. He is not afraid to shoot.
Despite the poor shooting percentage, O’Neill liked almost all of Bayless’ shot selection, except for one quick, ill-advised 17-footer during NAU’s 13-0 run in the second half.
Bayless played almost all of his 34 minutes at the point, the exception being a couple of possessions in the second half when he was paired in the backcourt with Nic Wise.
“I think I got everyone involved,” Bayless said. “My shooting is going to come as I feel the pace of the game a little better. Until then, I’m going to keep shooting. And we’re going to keep on getting wins. That’s what matters.”
We also saw that Bayless has a lot of fire in the belly. We won’t have to wait long to see how great competition brings out his best.
UA players in their lockers have a printout of a quote from Virginia point guard Sean Singletary about last season’s 93-90 victory in Charlottesville.
The Cavs overcame a 19-point first-half deficit, and Singletary commented that he knew his team would come back because, in so many words, Arizona was soft.
The teams play Saturday in McKale.
Even though Bayless wasn’t a part of last year’s game, he feels insulted, grabbing the printout to show reporters.
“It’s a very big deal on Saturday,” he said. “This is what we’re going to take to heart and we’re going to take this to practice, and Saturday we’re definitely going to come through and prove this wrong to him.
“That’s a lot of motivation. That’s the most disrespectful thing someone can say to me – that I’m soft.”
He ended his postgame interview like the game – without a smile.
Perhaps they’ll come on Saturday.