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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Wildcats run away from Bulldogs behind suffocating defense

    No. 21 Arizona 69, Fresno State 50

    For about 10 minutes Sunday afternoon, the No. 21 Arizona men’s basketball team struggled with Fresno State.

    Then the UA defense turned up the pressure and held the Bulldogs to a single basket in 11:11 of game time to help the Wildcats (7-2) win their fourth game in a row, going away, 69-50, in McKale Center.

    Fresno State (5-5) missed 15 of 16 shots during that stretch while Arizona scored 22 points, with a 17-0 run in between, to turn a two-point deficit into an 18-point lead. That helped the Wildcats win a game they scored a season-low 69 points in, holding Fresno State 12 points below Arizona’s previous defensive low.

    “”We were just locking up, and they weren’t hitting any shots,”” said guard Jawann McClellan. “”We were making it hard for them to hit shots. Every time they shot the ball there was a hand in their face.””

    Said forward Jamelle Horne: “”The kind of defense (interim head coach Kevin O’Neill) has us playing is basically – I’m not going to say it’s a masterpiece, but it’s really solid, so if we do what we need to do stuff like that’s going to happen.””

    The team later extended the lead in the second half with a 9-0 run, overall outscoring the Bulldogs by 30 points in under 18 minutes of game time.

    “”I thought the team played good basketball tonight for a long period of time,”” O’Neill said. “”Basically I was happy with our performance tonight. I thought we played fairly hard most of the time. We got some good performances out of quite a few people, and we’ll take the win and move on.””

    Guard Jerryd Bayless once again topped that list, catching fire during Arizona’s first-half run. While the defense shut down Fresno State, Bayless scored 13 of his game-high 21 points during a 6:23 stretch, hitting five shots in a row.

    Bayless has now scored 20 points during his last four games and has reached that total in six of nine games to average a team-high 20.0 points per game.

    “”It’s hard because that’s what people expect out of him, but he continues to get it done,”” Horne said.

    O’Neill sees Bayless becoming a high-percentage player, whereas earlier in the season he forced the issue by doing things he could not do, which led to high-turnover games.

    “”He’s getting a better feel for the game,”” O’Neill said. “”I thought he had a couple forced plays tonight, but overall I think the guy’s maturing into a very fine guard. He’s really stepping up and doing some good things.””

    One such play capped Arizona’s 39-9 run, dishing a pass to Horne for a dunk between his legs, before connecting with his fellow freshman with a celebratory chest bump.

    Bayless said he used to make that play in high school, but if a UA player does not execute such an attempted pass O’Neill “”might lose his mind.””

    “”He gets mad if you don’t complete the play,”” Bayless said. “”If you do something fancy and the ball gets turned over, you’re dead. But if you make the play he’s not going to say nothing about it.””

    Running the show most of the game, Bayless recorded just three assists but helped the team get good shots, as evidenced by the team’s 21 assists on 27 field goals, something O’Neill said “”is always a telling stat for a team that they’re moving the ball.””

    Guard Jawann McClellan finished with a career-high six assists, while forward Chase Budinger added a career-high-tying five dimes, with Arizona moving the ball especially well during the first half when it assisted on 13 of 15 field goals.

    The Wildcats’ big three of Bayless, Budinger and forward Jordan Hill did most of the damage once again, scoring 52 of the team’s 69 points, about 75 percent of the output.

    Hill’s line of 15 points, nine rebounds and two key blocks comes after the sophomore put in a good week of practice, according to O’Neill, on the heels of winning Pacific 10 Conference Player of the Week honors following a 23-point, 14-rebound game last week against Illinois.

    “”He’s getting much more confidence,”” O’Neill said. “”I think that Illinois game was really big for him. I think that guy’s going to keep growing, not just physically as a player but emotionally as a guy that we can go to and lean on and count on inside.””

    Although there wasn’t much for O’Neill to complain about overall, in a game his team shot 49.1 percent from the field and turned the ball over just 10 times while holding the opposition to 33.9 percent shooting, he was not pleased with Arizona’s play at the end of the game.

    After leading by 29 with 9:18 left, the Bulldogs trimmed that lead by 10 points the rest of the way off the strength of four 3-pointers, shots the Wildcats did a good job of limiting the rest of the game.

    “”He was upset about the last five minutes of the game, giving up a lot of 3s,”” McClellan said. “”We’ve got to play a full 40 minutes. We still haven’t done that yet.””

    In all, O’Neill likes how his team has played the past five games, which has resulted in four straight wins after the overtime loss at No. 3 Kansas on Nov. 25.

    Horne also sees the Wildcats getting better, something he hopes continues throughout the season, as opposed to last year’s squad that won 12 games in a row early in the year before stumbling the rest of the way.

    “”Last year around this time the team kind of peaked, but we’re still getting better,”” Horne said. “”We’ve still got a lot of things we have to work on. Hopefully we have a nice gelling at the right time, around tournament time.””

    And 1

    Arizona’s defense held Fresno State to 19 points, a season-low opponent total for a half, on 29.4 percent shooting (7-of-24), the lowest field goal percentage for a UA opponent in any half … The Wildcats outrebounded the Bulldogs, 41-25, the largest margin of the season. Arizona has outrebounded four of its past five opponents, with three of those by at least nine boards.

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