TUCSON, Ariz. (AP)—Arizona coach Kevin O’Neill had a warning for the Wildcats before they met underdog Fresno State.
“I told our team before the game, we’re a growing team, and when you’re a growing team you don’t want to have any setbacks,” O’Neill said.
The 21st-ranked Wildcats responded with a 69-50 victory Sunday for their fourth straight victory.
Jerryd Bayless scored 21 points, Chase Budinger added 16 points, and Jordan Hill finished with 15 points and nine rebounds for the Wildcats (7-2).
Arizona played for the second time since coach Lute Olson announced he would extend his personal leave of absence through the end of the season. In the first game, Arizona spotted Illinois a 12-0 lead in Chicago before rallying for a 78-72 overtime victory.
Sunday’s game tipped off at 1 p.m., and with most students gone for the holidays, the typically raucous McKale Center had a sleepy feel. On a greaseboard in Arizona’s locker room, coaches wrote: “Don’t ease into the game. Be ready and into it from the start.”
The Wildcats ignored the advice and trailed 17-15 midway through the first half.
“We are an ease-in group,” O’Neill said.
But Arizona responded with a 20-2 run to take a 35-19 halftime lead and end any thoughts the Bulldogs had of pulling off an upset.
“We came out in the first half and were doing what we needed to,” said Fresno State guard Kevin Bell, who led the Bulldogs with 12 points. “But then we stopped.”
The Bulldogs stopped, but Bayless was only getting started. During the 20-2 run, he made three 3-pointers and jammed off an alley-oop pass from Nic Wise.
“I started making some shots,” Bayless said. “I made my first one, and my teammates kept getting the ball to me.”
Early in the second half, Bayless brought the crowd to its feet with a between-the-legs pass to Jamelle Horn, who dunked. Bayless said he wasn’t afraid of incurring O’Neill’s wrath with the showboat move.
“K.O. 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.”
O’Neill said he thought it was “a great play.
“I tell our guys this all the time: ‘If you complete it, I’m for it,”’ O’Neill said. “If you throw a hook shot from halfcourt and it banks in, I’ll cheer my little behind right off. Don’t bobble it, though.”
Bayless, a freshman from Phoenix, is averaging a team-high 20 points and has led the Wildcats in scoring five times in his first nine college games.
On the defensive end, Arizona limited Fresno State to 29.2 percent shooting in the first half. The Bulldogs had more turnovers (nine) than field goals (seven) and scored only two baskets in the final 11:39 of the first half.
“Our defense is getting better, and we’re starting to get the system down and trust one another on the defensive end,” Bayless said.
The Bulldogs (5-5) dropped their second straight and fell to 1-4 on the road, but coach Steve Cleveland said he thought his team had taken a step forward.
“We showed patience, we showed resolve, and we improved,” he said. “We got the same open shots that they did. We just didn’t hit as many as we needed.”
Arizona visits UNLV on Wednesday night. Fresno State plays host to Presbyterian on Thursday night.