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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    “Lack of depth, Bayless’ absence lead to rare loss against Devils”

    TEMPE – This is the type of game Arizona always wins.

    Or at least always used to win.

    Five-point lead with two minutes to go, leading nearly the entire game against a team its beaten 24 out of the last 25 times in every possible way from 30-point blowouts to last-second Salim Stoudamire game-winners.

    But unlike Arizona teams of yore under Lute Olson, interim head coach Kevin O’Neill’s first Wildcat squad found a way to lose the game against the Sun Devils.

    Worse, it could be argued that ASU fielded a more talented lineup, with Arizona missing guard Jerryd Bayless.

    Devils guard James Harden, possibly the symbol of the shifting fate of this rivalry, took over the game the way UA stars used to. He scored a game-high 26 points, including more points (five) than the Wildcats in overtime, consistently getting to the basket and scoring, even if he initiated contact a bit more than O’Neill thought legal.

    Harden had a chance to shift the rivalry with one shot at the end of regulation that could be seen as a microcosm of what’s happening in this series.

    The freshman McDonald’s All-American, the kind of player the Devils never had, was guarded one on one by UA senior guard Jawann McClellan, a former McDonald’s All-American who’s become a glue guy instead of a dominant offensive player. Harden got McClellan on his heels and had a clean look but just missed, instead helping to end the long winning streak in overtime.

    The entire building had a different feel than most Arizona-ASU games, with the home team actually enjoying a home-court advantage. Despite it being a home game for the Devils, that’s actually a surprise, as so many UA fans typically make the trip that Zona Zoo’s ASU road trip shirt three years ago aptly read, “”Your house is our house.””

    Although UA guard Nic Wise said it’s difficult losing to any team, ASU forward Jeff Pendergraph, who had lost all four of his previous meetings against the Wildcats, had a much different take regarding the opponent

    “”It feels really good,”” Pendergraph said. “”Finally. If I leave here, I can at least say I got them once. They didn’t get me. They didn’t get J.P. while he was here. It feels really good.””

    Then the fans stormed the court, doing it for good reason for once, unlike those Devil football field rushes. After all, the calendar read March 11, 1995, back when ASU last beat Arizona before the 24-of-25 streak, with that game being a 103-98 double overtime contest that also marked the last overtime game in the series.

    The Wildcats clearly missed their super freshman, losing for the third time in four games since Bayless sprained his right knee. He may have teased fans a bit by suiting up, but O’Neill learned earlier in the day after a conversation with Bayless that the Phoenix native would not be available, a decision the coach said he respected.

    O’Neill said he would speak with Bayless again Friday to see his availability for Saturday’s game at Houston

    “”I’m not going to rush that kid, there’s too much at stake for him personally,”” O’Neill said. “”I know Jerryd Bayless will be back as soon as he can be back, because nobody would have wanted to have played in a game like that more than Jerryd Bayless, but we are missing him, which is more than obvious I think right now.

    “”We miss him offensively, we miss him defensively. It forces some guys to play too many minutes.””

    Saying “”there’s too much at stake for him personally”” sure sounds quite a bit like the me-first reputation the Wildcats found stuck on themselves in years past, something players have sworn isn’t the case this season after forward Marcus Williams was often accused of just that last year.

    That’s not to say Bayless could have played or been effective, as he certainly looked gimpy in warmups, but a comment like that doesn’t sound very team-oriented.

    As much as Bayless is missed individually, his absence creates such a big burden on his teammates in Arizona’s rotation minutes-wise that the Wildcats have faded down the stretch in all three of their losses without him.

    The UA starters’ minute totals read 45, 44, 41, 41 and 37 on Wednesday night. Forward Zane Johnson played the most minutes off the bench (eight) after peeling off his redshirt, being one of three players to compile 17 total bench minutes. In an overtime game.

    “”I think our options are limited with who we’re playing,”” O’Neill said. “”Let’s face it, Daniel Dillon played how many minutes tonight? How many minutes did Daniel average last year?””

    Dillon, a senior, played a career-high 44 minutes against the Devils. In his first three years in the program he had never played more than 23, averaging 11.0 minutes per game last year and 9.1 for his career.

    Now a player who did not play by coach’s decision in the Wildcats’ big Dec. 2 upset against then-No. 9 Texas A&M and did not play more than eight minutes in the five games before Bayless’ injury nearly played the whole game.

    Wise, who never played more than 19 minutes last year when he averaged 8.2 per game, missed four minutes in this contest only because of foul trouble after playing 119 of 120 minutes the past three games.

    “”We’re asking guys to do things that they haven’t done before,”” O’Neill said. “”Guys are in roles they’re not accustomed to and because of that sometimes they don’t play the best basketball, and they’re playing too many minutes, but it is what it is, basketball is what basketball is, and you just go on from it.””

    O’Neill said the problem hasn’t been effort, saying he’s liked how hard his club has played since the first half Nov. 17 against Virginia except for the first half of Saturday’s Oregon game.

    But Arizona’s porous depth has been an issue, and it became an even bigger problem when starting forward Bret Brielmaier went down with what looks to O’Neill to be a separated shoulder that the coach said would keep him out “”for a while.””

    “”When it rains it pours a little bit,”” O’Neill said.

    Forward Chase Budinger said it’s tough not having a full squad out there, but did not want to make that an excuse even though at times it seemed like himself and forward Jordan Hill were Arizona’s only offensive options on the floor.

    Healthy or not, Budinger knows his team cannot afford to slide any more, or Jerryd Bayless might not even be able to save this team from a repeat of the past two years.

    “”We’ve at least got to bounce back and really come together as a team and start winning ballgames,”” Budinger said.

    It’s been quite a long time since a Wildcat uttered those words after playing ASU.

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