Ho-hum. Just a sleepy Sunday game at McKale Center. Arizona already had doubled the score on Fresno State eight minutes into the second half, the crowd was quietly content . . . and then it happened.
In a flash, Jerryd Bayless broke free on a fast break, zooming past halfcourt with only Fresno State’s 5-foot-10 guard Kevin Bell back to defend.
Bayless was on the right wing. Forward Jamelle Horne was trailing, running the middle of the court.
“I was maybe expecting a pass,” Horne said. “Jerryd likes to throw it down himself.”
Bayless had something different in mind this time. With the ball in his right hand, he fired a bounce pass between his legs to Horne, who soared to the basket for a dunk. Bell had little choice but to duck out of the way.
Ladies and gentlemen, your highlight play of the season (so far).
“It just happened,” Bayless said. “Just playing. Having fun.”
That play slathered the mustard on what otherwise was a dog of a game – at least from an entertainment standpoint. Interim coach Kevin O’Neill liked what he saw from the Wildcats in a 69-50 victory, and he didn’t mind Bayless putting a bow on top with the between-the-legs pass – a perfect one, by the way – that resulted in two points.
Horne peeked at the sideline after the dunk to make sure the showy play was OK with the coach they call KO.
“I tell the guys this all this time: If you complete it, I’m for it,” O’Neill said. “If you throw a hook shot from halfcourt and it banks in, I’ll cheer my little behind off.”
Bayless hasn’t needed sleight-of-hand or no-look passes to make an impact.
He had an 11-point flurry in less than four minutes late in the first half. Nine points came on 3-pointers; the other two points came on an alley-oop dunk on a pass from Nic Wise.
That was the play of the game until Bayless and Horne topped it.
“In practice, everything is serious. He doesn’t even mess around like that in practice,” Horne said of Bayless. “KO would have gotten on him. It would have been bad. He would have stopped practice and sent us home.”
Instead, Bayless took a chance within the flow of the game and sent the crowd home buzzing.
The freshman guard from Phoenix admits to having had to restrain from more extravagant play, which must please head coach Lute Olson, wherever he is on his leave of absence. Olson has never favored fancy over fundamental.
Remember the game against Houston almost exactly a year ago? That’s when Mustafa Shakur, on a fast break, laid the ball off the glass, setting up Marcus Williams for a dunk.
Olson’s reaction after the game: “Well, it got the crowd going.”
The Bayless play did, too.
“I used to do it in high school every game,” Bayless said of the between-the-legs pass. “But you’ve got to make sure you get it done at this level or else coach O’Neill might lose his mind and become very red, like he is most of the time.”
That’s a zinger to match his pass.
After the highlight play, Bayless did a bit of strutting, capped by a chest bump with Jawann McClellan at midcourt.
Can’t wait to see what the kid does next, huh?
What I can’t wait for is to see Bayless against Memphis freshman point guard Derrick Rose or against UCLA’s cat-quick Darren Collison or against the sticky defenders from Washington State or, well, it’s all very enticing.
The five-star recruit has been all that was advertised.
Bayless led Arizona with 21 points Sunday. He has scored at least 20 in four consecutive games.
He has scored at least 18 points in eight of his first nine college games. The only time he didn’t was when he put in 14 against Adams State.
“I think Jerryd is becoming a very high percentage-type player,” O’Neill said. “He doesn’t do nearly as many things that he can’t do right now as he was early in the year. He is getting a better feel for the game. He had a couple of forced plays tonight, but overall, I think the guy is maturing into a really fine guard.”
And now we know he’s a really fine guard with a tricky between-the-legs bounce pass, too.