Bayless returns, leads Arizona to 85-71 victory over Houston
HOUSTON (AP)—Arizona freshman point guard Jerryd Bayless smiled when Houston guard Robert McIver started talking trash to him early in Saturday’s game.
Bayless didn’t need to say anything back.
He scored a career-high 33, matched his career high with nine assists and made a school-record 18 free throws in his first game back from a sprained right knee to lead Arizona to an 85-71 victory over Houston, snapping the Cougars’ 12-game home winning streak.
“I think he was trying to come out and intimidate me a little bit,” Bayless said of McIver. “He just didn’t know who he was talking to.”
The Wildcats (11-5) lost three of the four games Bayless missed after injuring his knee in practice Dec. 28. He showed no ill effects, constantly driving past defenders for layups or drawing fouls on the Cougars’ big men.
“Jerryd gives us a toughness and a swagger that we don’t have when he’s not in there,” Arizona coach Kevin O’Neill said. “Jerryd is just a big-time player. He’s everything you could ever want.”
A trainer wrapped Bayless’ knee in ice as he talked to reporters after the game. He said his knee was “very sore” and not fully healed.
Bayless, who had five rebounds, went 18-for-20 from the line, passing the previous record of 17 free throws by Miles Simon in 1998.
“I was just hoping he’d be a little out of shape and not quite 100 percent,” Houston coach Tom Penders said.
Zamal Nixon scored 24 points to lead Houston (11-3), which dropped to 9-1 at Hofheinz Pavilion this season. McIver, Conference USA’s second-leading scorer, had 16 points on 5-of-21 shooting.
The Cougars were 5-of-22 from 3-point range (23 percent), far below their 37 percent season average.
Houston was off target from the start, missing 13 of its first 18 shots, including six 3-point attempts. McKiver missed his first five shots, then swished a 3-pointer with 9:17 left in the half to cut Arizona’s lead to 19-17.
The Wildcats preserved their lead by attacking the smaller Cougars inside. Bayless drove for a layup, then went 4-for-4 from the line over the final 3:40 of the half to help the Wildcats take a 38-33 lead.
Arizona opened the second half with a 13-4 burst. Bayless cut inside for another layup, threw a perfect alley-oop pass to Chase Budinger for a dunk, then hit a 3-pointer to put Arizona up 51-37.
Bayless fearlessly drove to the basket again on Arizona’s next two possessions, got fouled and converted all four free throws. He assisted on 3-pointers by Budinger and Nic Wise as the Wildcats pulled away. Bayless’ long jumper with 12:55 left made it 63-44.
Bayless did his best to put the injury out of his mind.
“I had to just come out there, start attacking the basket, get other people involved and just make plays,” he said.
Bayless had only practiced once since hurting his knee, and O’Neill wasn’t surprised at how quickly the Wildcats improved with the star point guard back in the lineup.
“They understand who he is and he understands who they are,” O’Neill said. “Both parts made each other better. Our team got better playing with him and he did a heck of a job of leading our way and playing the way he did.”
Houston made things mildly interesting with an 11-0 run as the Wildcats suddenly started missing shots and committing turnovers. Nixon’s putback with 8:57 left cut Arizona’s lead to 63-55.
Out of an Arizona timeout, Bayless made two free throws after getting smacked on another drive down the lane. The Wildcats stayed in control from there, and Jordan Hill finished off the Cougars with two powerful dunks in the closing minutes.
Arizona played without forward Bret Brielmaier, who did not travel to Houston after injuring his right shoulder against Arizona State on Wednesday.
Houston honored former coach Guy Lewis at halftime. The 85-year-old Lewis, confined to a wheelchair after suffering a stroke in 2002, led the Phi Slama Jama teams of the early 1980s.