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O’Neill tells red-hot Bayless to ‘just go’

Citizen Staff Writer


Citizen Sportswriter

SEATTLE – Nike’s motto was “Just do it.” Arizona interim coach Kevin O’Neill’s is “Just go.”

When Jerryd Bayless hears O’Neill shout those two words, he knows what to do: Kick his offense into high gear.

It’s worked plenty this season and very well the last three games as UA and O’Neill look to Bayless to keep the Cats in the hunt for the school’s 24th consecutive NCAA tournament bid.

“I tell him, ‘You have to just go, man,’ ” O’Neill said. “I don’t know what ‘just go’ means, to be honest with you. (To Bayless), it means you have to put the ball on the floor and get us some baskets.”

The 6-foot-3, 195-pound guard is doing it at near-record pace.

Heading into Thursday night’s game at Washington, he is second in Pac-10 scoring at 21.1 points a game. That ties him with former Cal star Shareef Abdur-Rahim for the league’s scoring average record by a freshman. Imagine if Bayless hadn’t missed three games with a knee injury.

Bayless’ 103 combined points in his last three games is second in UA history behind Coniel Norman’s 104, set 34 years ago. Against ASU, Cal and Stanford, Bayless hit 51.8 percent of his shots, including 52.2 percent on 3-pointers.

The numbers aren’t exactly surprising in that UA is playing without Nic Wise (knee) and Bret Brielmaier (shoulder) and more is being asked of Bayless.

Wise’s absence has forced Bayless to handle the ball more and to create shots for others and himself. His teammates are shooting just 33.7 percent from the floor, so Bayless has no choice but to carry the load.

Although Bayless is piling up the numbers, O’Neill feels he is still a “very unselfish player.”

“To be honest, it’s difficult for him at times to really understand what I am saying when I say, ‘Just go.’ His tendency is to move the ball and get everybody involved,” O’Neill said.

Anything to get a win.

But Arizona (16-9, 6-6 Pac-10) is 1-2 in its last three games. It makes Bayless a bit surly when discussing his recent point-producing success.

“I know Jerryd would trade all the 30-point performances for us to have won two of three,” O’Neill said. “He’s doing what he has to do for us to win.”

He’ll continue to do so – as mandated by O’Neill.

“He has to put those numbers up for us or we’re not going to win,” O’Neill said.

Bayless, perhaps being modest, said any one of his teammates could do what he’s doing, but that he’s taken over because he’s in a groove.

So what does “Just go” mean to him?

“Be more aggressive,” he said. “Make plays for me and my teammates. That’s what I’ve been trying to do.”

Bayless said he does have a mentality to score. He developed that while leading his high school team at Phoenix St. Mary’s.

“I’m comfortable doing that type of thing,” he said. “. . . I know I was capable of this.”

Washington coach Lorenzo Romar coached Bayless two years ago on the Under-18 national team. He knows the freshman is “a scorer by nature.”

“Whatever position you put him in and with whatever player you put him with, he’ll find a way to score,” Romar said.

Bayless scored 26 points last month in UA’s 84-69 win over Washington at McKale Center. The Huskies (14-12, 5-8) have improved, upsetting UCLA in Seattle.

O’Neill said he’s never been the head coach of a college player who has been given the “Just go” edict. But former UA and Cholla High star Sean Elliott had the go-ahead while O’Neill was an assistant at UA in the mid-1980s.

As an NBA head coach and assistant, O’Neill also saw the “take-over mentality” in pros Jerry Stackhouse, Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton and Vince Carter.

“I hope it’s something Jerryd carries with him the remainder of his career,” O’Neill said. “I think he will.”

Teammate Chase Budinger also hopes Bayless keeps his scoring up.

“He has really stepped up as a man,” Budinger said. “He has taken a lot of the load, and took it all on himself. He has been playing tremendous.

“He is really carrying this team and being a leader.”

Steve Rivera’s e-mail: srivera@tucsoncitizen.com

UA (16-6, 6-6) at Washington (14-12, 5-8)

• When: 9 p.m.; TV: FSNA; Radio: 1290 AM

Full Page Inside: 5C

• Rivera’s analysis, rosters, notes, stats

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