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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    A questionable homecoming

    Arizona guard Jerryd Bayless dribbles up the court during a 69-50 win over Fresno State Sunday in McKale Center. The Wildcats hit the road for the first time during winter break Wednesday at Nevada-Las Vegas.
    Arizona guard Jerryd Bayless dribbles up the court during a 69-50 win over Fresno State Sunday in McKale Center. The Wildcats hit the road for the first time during winter break Wednesday at Nevada-Las Vegas.

    Arizona at ASU

    Drive less than 20 minutes southeast from St. Mary’s High School in Phoenix – the oldest Catholic high school in Arizona – and you’ll reach Wells Fargo Arena in Tempe, where the state’s oldest collegiate rivalry will spark up once again Wednesday night.

    Arizona guard Jerryd Bayless, the best St. Mary’s player when he wore No. 32 just a year ago, could experience his first action against ASU (12-2, 2-0 Pacific 10 Conference) for the Wildcats (10-4, 1-1) in a 7:30 p.m. game that’s televised on FSNA.

    Bayless, who’s been sidelined since spraining a medial collateral ligament in his right knee on Dec. 28 that has caused him to miss three games thus far, was ruled as “”day-to-day”” on Monday and could be cleared to play during the team’s shootaround Wednesday afternoon.

    “”I’d like to play in front of my family and friends,”” said Bayless, who would be playing against his best friend, ASU guard Christian Polk. “”But I’ve got to look out for what’s best for me and the team right now.””

    There is the possibility that he may not be healthy enough to play.

    “”It’s not fun, but it’s something I’ve got to do right now,”” Bayless said of sitting on the bench while he heals. “”I’ve just got to encourage my teammates right now and hopefully help them get some wins. Hopefully I’ll be ready to go.””

    When the Wildcats are without Bayless, they are missing a guard who averaged team highs in points (18.5, third in the Pac-10) and assists (4.18, seventh) in 11 games before the injury. If Arizona is able to put Bayless back on the hardwood, it will make for a better game not only for the Wildcats, but also the Sun Devils, said ASU guard James Harden.

    “”With him, they’re more explosive,”” Harden said. “”They have (guard) Nic Wise, they have Jerryd. The backcourt is real good. If Jerryd plays it’ll be a real exciting game, it would mean we have to play even harder.””

    ASU head coach Herb Sendek said that Arizona is a good team, with or without Bayless.

    “”That shows you the strength of their squad and their program that they could have a guy out like that and still be so good,”” Sendek said. “”They’re good on both ends of the floor, and they defend well in the man-to-man, and offensively they’re extremely potent. They’re hard to guard.””

    UA interim head coach Kevin O’Neill said that he’s worked up several starting rotations since he won’t know whether Bayless will be able to play until a few hours before the game and that he won’t plan on Bayless playing until team trainers tell him he is healthy enough to do so.

    The lineup could include two big men and three perimeter players or a big man and four smaller players, though the latter is the least likely.

    “”The problem is if we go with four perimeter guys with (guard) Daniel (Dillon) and Jerryd’s not playing and your perimeter guys get into (foul) trouble, who do you have?”” O’Neill asked. “”We actually don’t have another perimeter player over there to come off the bench, so that makes it a little bit difficult.””

    Taking over scoring duties in Bayless’ absence has been forward Chase Budinger, who’s averaged 23.3 points in the past three games -including a 30-point performance against Oregon Saturday. Budinger is also the team’s second-leading rebounder behind forward Jordan Hill, pulling down 5.6 boards per game, including 20 over the past three games.

    “”I think with or without Jerryd, (Budinger) is going to be a big part of the game just because he’s so athletic and we’ve got to stop him on the boards,”” said ASU guard Derek Glasser. “”He’s shown more leadership this year. I think with Jerryd being out he’s been able to step in big games and knock down shots we didn’t see him make last year, so we’re going to really have to focus on him.””

    Even with his offensive prowess, having Bayless back in the lineup will only help Budinger, Hill and Wise get more open looks to the basket, Wise said.

    “”It makes my game a lot more easier when (Bayless) is in the game and it makes the game easier for him when I’m in there as well,”” said Wise, who has been the team’s starting point guard in Bayless’ absence. “”It also makes it easier for Chase and Jawann (McClellan). They (opponents) can’t key in on Jordan and when Jordan gets in foul trouble it limits our scoring, so we need Jerryd out there.””

    Whether he returns in time for this game or in the near future Bayless has shown his patience, but he has made it clear that he’s anticipating his return.

    “”It’s just part of the game – it comes with it,”” Bayless said. “”I just gotta get through it somehow.””

    And 1

    The Wildcats are trying to keep from starting 1-2 in conference play for the first time since the 2001-02 season.

    “”Going down 1-2, nobody wants that, especially with the tough Pac-10 schedule that we have. A tough RPI got us ready for this,”” Wise said of the Wildcats’ No. 13 RPI earned by playing the nation’s toughest schedule. “”We just gotta step up to the challenge.””

    Michael Schwartz contributed to this report

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