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Cats need Bayless, but he’s still iffy

Citizen Staff Writer
ARIZONA (10-4, 1-1) AT ASU (12-2, 2-0), 7:30 P.M. WEDNESDAY; TV: FSNA; RADIO: 1290 AM, 107.5 FM


Citizen columnist

First, let me state the obvious: Arizona needs freshman Jerryd Bayless.

Any team would, but under Arizona’s conditions – limited in depth and offensive production – it is especially true.

With UA visiting Arizona State on Wednesday, the injured Bayless is more than an X factor. He’s an X, Y and Z factor.

“We miss him a lot,” sophomore Nic Wise said. “He’s our leading scorer and makes my game a lot more easier, and it makes the game easier for him when I’m in there for him.

“He makes it also easier for Chase (Budinger) and Jawann (McClellan) because they (opponents) can’t key on Jordan (Hill). We need Jerryd out there.”

No one knows that better than interim head coach Kevin O’Neill, who must devise a scheme to score against ASU’s zone defense.

“Any time you lose a 20-point scorer, it’s difficult to fill that gap . . . ,” O’Neill said. “Jerryd makes every matchup better.”

As of Monday afternoon, no one knew if Bayless, who has a right knee sprain, will play against the Sun Devils or Saturday at Houston.

Bayless continues to sit out practice, but he’s been shooting jumpers and attempting to move – with caution – laterally.

Since his injury during practice Dec. 28, UA has gone 1-2 after starting 9-2. Arizona is out of the top 25 for the first time in five weeks and – gasp! – is behind ASU in the “others receiving votes” category.

UA might not have beaten No. 2 Memphis on Dec. 29 with Bayless, but it certainly would have come closer than its 13-point loss.

Who knows if Oregon, talented and stout as it is, would have controlled the tempo and gotten transition baskets against Arizona had Bayless played Saturday.

As a reader pointed out, it’s not as though Bayless wears a Superman cape. But Bayless can help get UA back on track and force the issue against opponents.

Much of that tenacity came from Bayless, a strong-willed type who gets to the basket or finds a way to get the ball to the right guy.

Not that Wise hasn’t done an admirable job filling in at the point guard spot, but the team is more potent with Bayless starting and Wise bringing energy off the bench.

Freshman guard Lavar Lucas-Perry would have found more playing time now, but he has moved on to Michigan.

Daniel Dillon has played some, giving an up-and-down effort when he’s been in.

That’s it when it comes to the backcourt.

The frontcourt may be even thinner, particularly when sophomore Hill gets into foul trouble.

“Our biggest problem is when Jordan is not in there,” O’Neill said. “Let’s face it. When Jordan is not in there we’re an average team upfront. We don’t have anyone on our bench who can adequately replace Jordan Hill. That’s just the way it is. When he’s not in there for long stretches, it’s a challenge to rebound.”

When Bayless isn’t in there, it’s a challenge in the backcourt.

“If he plays, he plays (and) if he doesn’t, he doesn’t,” O’Neill said. “It’s part of the game.”

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