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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Point guard growing Wiser in Bayless’ absence

    For the first 11 games of the season, Nic Wise played a role that fit the 5-foot-10 speedster to a T: come off the bench and infuse the Arizona men’s basketball team with energy.

    That all changed for the time being when guard Jerryd Bayless suffered an injury and the Wildcats had to find a way to replace his 18.5 points, 4.2 assists and 34.2 minutes per game.

    Now as the only healthy point guard on No. 21 Arizona’s roster, much of the squad’s playmaking responsibility falls to Wise until Bayless returns. By necessity he has logged 79 of 80 minutes the past two games after playing 39 Thursday against Oregon State, which has made the sophomore a tired but valuable member of the Wildcats.

    “”I feel like it’s becoming more and more my team, being able to run the show,”” Wise said. “”I’m usually used to playing 30-35 minutes, so it’s not different, it’s just not being able to have a sub when you need one or being able to pick and choose whenever you can play hard the whole game the whole time you’re in there.

    “”If I’m in there 40 minutes, it’s kind of hard to go hard, 100 miles per hour (for) 40 minutes.””

    But he still acts as a sparkplug at times, tying Thursday’s game at 44 with about 11:30 left by putting a quick move on a defender for a layup before helping Arizona take only its second lead of the game on an assist for a Daniel Dillon 3 the next time down the floor.

    Then with six minutes left and the Wildcats up five, Wise recorded one of his career-high five steals on a size mismatch in the post before pushing the ball to forward Chase Budinger for a momentum-swinging 3 as part of a 12-3 run that ensured the win.

    In contrast to Saturday’s 76-63 loss at No. 2 Memphis when he missed seven of 10 shots and turned the ball over four times, appearing to force the issue at times, Wise played under control in Thursday’s 76-63 win over Oregon State, scoring a career-high 17 points on 7-for-9 shooting while dishing out six assists.

    “”He did tonight what he didn’t do in the Memphis game; he managed the game at point guard,”” said UA interim head coach Kevin O’Neill. “”I thought he handled himself much better out there tonight. I thought he was key with our team, and he will continue to be key with our team even when Jerryd comes back. He played a great basketball game tonight.””

    O’Neill said some of Wise’s struggles against the Tigers were understandable. Besides the fact he played against the nation’s No. 2 team, he found out he would be getting his first collegiate start at 10 a.m. on game day, a tough situation for any player.

    Wise said he felt more comfortable in a starting role Thursday, which appeared evident all game.

    After Wise’s poor shooting performance at Memphis, O’Neill liked his shot selection much more against the Beavers, when he hit all three of his 3s in his 77.8 percent shooting night, hitting career highs in field goals and 3-pointers made.

    The hot shooting stems in part from advice from O’Neill, who has told every point guard he’s ever coached on a passing team like the Wildcats that they will get the ball back if they give it up. That certainly applies to Wise as O’Neill has seen his shooting percentage go up when he shoots later in the possession in rhythm like he often did Thursday as opposed to when he comes down the court and jacks up a jumper.

    “”But it’s a hard thing,”” O’Neill said, “”because he didn’t play much last year (and) in high school he was a shoot-first guy, but tonight he performed like a real point guard should at both ends of the floor, and that maturity as it comes along is going to be needed for us as we play in this league.””

    Wise’s teammates have noticed his development, with forward Jordan Hill going so far as to call him one of the best point guards in the country.

    “”He took the shots that were available to him tonight, and he was able to knock them down,”” added guard Jawann McClellan. “”He was a good floor general tonight. He didn’t force anything like he did at Memphis. He took the shots that were there, and overall he played a good game.””

    Both O’Neill and Wise himself see the point guard gaining confidence during his time in charge of Arizona’s offense, something that’s sure to help once Bayless returns.

    In fact, Wise found a silver lining to Bayless’ injury due to the improvement he has made while the freshman has been out.

    “”You never want your best player, your leading scorer to go down with an injury, but it is a blessing in disguise sometimes,”” Wise said, “”just like Jordan last year emerged when Jawann’s knees were getting bad and he had to come off the bench and not play as many minutes, (Hill) became a beast and he’s a big presence right now.

    “”So I feel it’s going to help me in the long run, too.””

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