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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Getting back on track

    Arizona guard Jerryd Bayless, top, is fouled by Washington State forward Caleb Forrest during the Wildcats 65-55 win over the No. 17 Cougars Saturday in Pullman, Wash.
    Arizona guard Jerryd Bayless, top, is fouled by Washington State forward Caleb Forrest during the Wildcats’ 65-55 win over the No. 17 Cougars Saturday in Pullman, Wash.

    Arizona 65, No. 17 Washington State 55

    Following an ugly loss Thursday at Washington that inched the Wildcats toward the edge of the NCAA Tournament bubble, players felt an intensely focused attitude heading to the Palouse, approaching their game at No. 17 Washington State as the biggest of the year.

    Arizona (17-10, 7-7 Pacific 10 Conference) backed that up with one of its best efforts of the season, pulling off a 65-55 upset over the Cougars (21-6, 9-6) that likely put them into a more stable NCAA Tournament position.

    “”It was a huge game, it was definitely a needed game for us,”” said UA forward Chase Budinger. “”Everybody was just mentally ready, and we just came out with a lot of energy and just tried to play our butts off.

    “”I guess we like the pressure, we like it when our backs are against the wall, and we’re able to turn things around and get a big win when we need to.””

    Added UA guard Jawann McClellan, “”We needed it, a desperation win.””

    UA interim head coach Kevin O’Neill said he wasn’t thinking about the doom and gloom scenarios a loss would mean, as the program’s NCAA Tournament and 20-win season streaks would have been threatened by a conference record two games under .500.

    He never had to think about that after the Wildcats held the Cougars to 34 percent shooting, a season low for a UA opponent and Washington State as a team, suffocating the Cougars’ shooters into a 5-for-22 day beyond the arc while tightly defending the paint.

    “”We did a great job defensively,”” Budinger said. “”We really just made it tough for everybody to get open looks and I think just made them try to make tough shots.””

    McClellan, who helped hold Washington State guard Kyle Weaver to 10 points on 2-for-10 shooting, felt the key to the game was the Wildcats’ limiting the Cougars’ role players, as forwards Robbie Cowgill and Daven Harmeling and center Aron Baynes combined for only 11 points on 3-for-13 shooting.

    Offensively, Budinger found his confidence by hitting his first five shots and scoring 12 of Arizona’s first 14 points, outscoring the Cougars by himself for the first 11:37. He said he tried being more aggressive than in Thursday’s loss to the Huskies when he scored 10 points on 3-for-10 shooting, going for a team-high 22 this time around.

    Budinger kept Arizona afloat in the first half while Weaver held UA guard Jerryd Bayless scoreless for the first time in a half all season.

    The second half was a different story from the first possession when Bayless drove in for a reverse layup, as he ended up scoring 20 points on 6-for-9 shooting in the half.

    After the Cougars took a three-point lead just over five minutes into the second half, Bayless scored 11 points during an 18-6 UA spurt that put the team up 50-41 with 7:27 left. The Wildcats never led by less than five after that.

    “”He just got a little bit more aggressive and attacked the basket,”” O’Neill said of Bayless. “”Our guys were finding him, shared the ball and did a great job attacking the best defense in the whole league.””

    The Wildcats shot 50 percent in the contest (23-for-46), with Budinger, Bayless and forward Jordan Hill (13) scoring 84.6 percent of their points.

    “”When they started rallying back, me and Jerryd hit a big three and that would kind of dismantle their run that they had, and it was huge,”” Budinger said. “”When you’re shooting that well from beyond the arc it’s tough to lose.””

    The upset came at an opportune and fairly unexpected time with the Wildcats having lost four of five games overall and six of eight when either Bayless or injured guard Nic Wise did not play. The Cougars, on the other hand, had won four in a row and seemed to have righted themselves after a midseason slump.

    “”We’ve been struggling to find ourselves a little bit,”” O’Neill said.

    Sweeping the season series against the Cougars, who swept Arizona last year, represents a big step toward doing just that.

    The Wildcats now find themselves tied for fifth with ASU and in the thick of a bunched up Pac-10 race for third after the upset, which marked a twist back in the right direction in this topsy-turvy season.

    “”I have all the greatest admiration and respect for the players with everything that’s gone on this year,”” O’Neill said. “”For them to come out and play this kind of game says a lot about them as people.””

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