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Bayliss, Arizona shoot their way past Washington State

Jan 25, 2008 - 6:36 AM TUCSON, Arizona (Ticker) -- Freshman Jerryd Bayliss showed that despite its struggles, Arizona will be a team to be reckoned with in the Pac-10 Conference.

Bayliss scored 23 points and Chase Budinger added 22 as the unranked Wildcats toppled sixth-ranked Washington State, 76-64, on Thursday.

It was just the fourth win in the last eight games for Arizona (13-6, 3-3 Pac-10), which has had difficulties dealing with injuries to key players and the absence of longtime coach Lute Olson due to personal reasons.

"Any time you beat a top-10 team it means you're getting better," Arizona coach Kevin O'Neill said. "We still have work to do."

One of those players bitten by the injury bug was Bayliss, who missed four straight games starting at the end of December with a sprained knee. Since his return on January 12, the young guard has had at least 20 points in three of four games.

"I wouldn't trade him for any player in the country," O'Neill said. "I love his toughness, his leadership. He did it on both ends of the floor for us tonight."

With Bayliss setting the early pace, the Wildcats finished with a banner shooting effort, going 57 percent from the arc with a season-high 12 3-pointers.

"Washington State is a very, very good defensive team, and we were able to execute extremely well on the offensive end," O'Neill said.

The tough loss re-established Washington State's poor history against Arizona. Despite sweeping last season's series, the Cougars have lost 42 of the last 45 meetings.

Although the Wildcats have not had their normal banner season, Cougars coach Tony Bennett has seen a marked difference in Arizona under O'Neill.

"They were intense, had energy and O'Neill really had them revved up," he said. "O'Neill brought a much more physical team and mentally tough team compared to last year."

The emergence of sophomore forward Jordan Hill has brought a lot of that physicality to the Wildcats. He finished with 10 rebounds and six blocks to go along with four points.

Bayliss had 12 points in the first half as the Wildcats took a 34-31 lead at intermission. That edge grew quickly as the freshman converted four free throws and hit a 3-pointer during a 13-7 stretch that made it 47-38 with 14:17 remaining.

"I didn't feel much pressure," Bayliss said. "We're not ranked and they are. There were no real mismatches on the floor and we came together as a team to win tonight. It feels good and we need this."

Arizona, which beat a team ranked within the top six for the first time since topping Oklahoma State in the 2005 NCAA Tournament, continued to roll, pulling ahead, 68-50, on a jumper by Jawann McClellan with 6:08 left.

McClellan finished with 14 points and five assists for the Wildcats, who improved to 2-0 when hosting ranked teams this season.

Kyle Weaver and Aron Baynes scored 15 points apiece for Washington State (16-2, 4-2), which dropped out of a three-way tie with UCLA and Arizona State for the conference lead.

The Bruins squeezed out an 80-75 win in Oregon to gain sole possession of first place, while the Sun Devils lost at home to Washington, 72-61, on Thursday.

The Cougars' leading scorer, Derrick Low finished with just five points on 2-of-9 shooting, including 1-of-6 on 3-pointers. The senior guard had been in double figures in his previous seven games.

"I think that it was just one of those nights for (Low)," Bayliss said. "I would like to think that my defense was part of what shut him down, but I know he'll come out strong next time."