December 5, 2007

Bayless helps Arizona return to rankings

Jerryd Bayless, G, Arizona

Jerryd Bayless went to Arizona to play for Lute Olson.

Bayless is playing very well for the Wildcats (5-2), who climbed back into the rankings this week after beating Cal-State Fullerton and handing Texas A&M its first loss.

But he's not playing for Olson, 73, who remains on a leave of absence for personal reasons. He has been on leave since early November, turning the reins over to assistant Kevin O'Neill.

No matter the coach, Bayless, a five-star prospect whom Rivals.com ranked the No. 3 shooting guard in the 2007 class, is delivering. He is Rivals' National Freshman of the Week after scoring 21 points against the Titans and torching the Aggies for 26.

"There has been a lot going on with the program with Coach Olson and Coach O'Neill," Bayless told Rivals.com. "I think I'm figuring out better what Coach O'Neill is bringing to the table. It's a little different, but I'm feeling more comfortable."

Bayless (6 feet 3, 193 pounds) had more trouble putting into words the differences between Olson and O'Neill than he has scoring this season. He was 8-of-13 against Fullerton and 7-of-12 against A&M, raising his season shooting percentage to a sizzling 51.3 percent, including 43.8 percent from 3-point range.

Is O'Neill well, let's just say a bit louder than Olson?

"You could say that," Bayless said.

Bayless committed to Arizona before his junior year at Phoenix St. Mary's, decommitted that spring, then recommitted before his senior year. He chose the Wildcats over such luminaries as Kansas and Texas.

"Coach Olson is the reason I came here, and I miss him not being around," Bayless said. "But Coach O'Neill has done a great job. He's led us in a way that I'm happy to follow him, and we'll see where we can go."

Bayless said Olson had been around practice daily for the past couple of weeks. Bayless said he had no idea when the coach would return to his place on the bench, a spot he has occupied in Tucson for the past 24 seasons.

"He hasn't really told us anything (about when he might return)," Bayless said. "I'm sure it will be whenever he feels right."

Upon his return, he'll find a freshman who's getting better with every game. Bayless had a season-low one turnover against the Aggies to go with six assists. At this point, he looks more comfortable at shooting guard, but he can play the point and it may be where his future lies.

Where does he see himself?

"I'm whatever they ask me to be," Bayless said. "Coach O'Neill says be a playmaker. That's what I try to do."

OTHER NOMINEES FOR FRESHMAN OF THE WEEK:

G Eric Gordon, Indiana
The Hoosiers' sensation continues to light up the scoreboard. He dropped 29 points on Georgia Tech, including going 13-of-16 from the line. He followed that with 22 in a win over Southern Illinois. Gordon was 7-of-14 from the floor in each game.


F Patrick Patterson, Kentucky
The Wildcats' steadiest performer has been Patterson, who posted 19 points and 12 rebounds in a narrow win over Stony Brook and 19 and nine in a home loss to No. 1 North Carolina. He played all 40 minutes against Stony Brook, and he shot 60 percent for the week (15-of-25).


F Matt Howard, Butler
The Bulldogs played once last week, and Howard made it count. He had his breakout game against Ohio State, going for 23 points on 9-of-13 shooting and seven rebounds as the Bulldogs took down the Buckeyes.




Wayne Ellington
Guard
North Carolina



Rivals.com's No. 1 shooting guard in the Class of 2006 looks as if he's ready to assume the mantle, even if it took a little longer than expected.

Ellington led the Tar Heels to road wins last week over Ohio State and Kentucky, scoring 23 points against the Buckeyes and 18 against the Wildcats and seemingly stifling every rally with a timely jumper. He shot 45.1 percent (14-of-31) for the week and was even better from 3-point range (6-of-11, 54.5 percent). He also didn't commit a turnover in 62 minutes.

Ellington's scoring average is up from 11.7 as a freshman to 18 at the moment. He also is averaging 3.7 rebounds, up from 2.9. He had eight boards against Ohio State.

OTHER NOMINEES:

F Damion James, Texas
The Longhorns continue to be one of the biggest stories of the early season, and James jumped into the act last week. He had 19 points and 10 rebounds in each of two victories, including a road upset of UCLA. He shot 17-of-32 for the week, with six assists and two turnovers.


G/F K.C. Rivers, Clemson
The Tigers posted important victories over BCS conference opponents last week behind the play of Rivers. Playing without F James Mays, who is out with a sprained hip, Rivers delivered 18 points and 12 rebounds against Purdue and followed with 24 points and eight rebounds against South Carolina.


F Ryan Anderson, California
Anderson had 36 points and 13 rebounds in a win over Nevada, and he followed up with another double-double (15 points, 11 rebounds) in a victory over Missouri. He was 18-of-35 from the field for the week and 14-of-15 from the line.



Matt Bouldin
Guard
Gonzaga



If there's a theme running through our winners and nominees this week, it's players stepping up in the absence of other key performers. Bouldin has picked up some of the scoring load as the Bulldogs hold it together without Josh Heytvelt, who's expected back right after Christmas following surgery on his right ankle.

Bouldin helped Gonzaga to two huge road wins last week, a 70-65 triumph at St. Joseph's and an 85-82 squeaker over Connecticut. He had 16 points and seven rebounds against the Hawks and 19 points and five rebounds against the Huskies.

Gonzaga is off to a 7-1 start and is ranked No. 17 in the AP poll.

OTHER NOMINEES:

G Stephen Curry, Davidson
Curry dropped 38 points in a big win at conference rival Appalachian State after scoring 20 against Duke in another narrow loss to a highly ranked team for the Wildcats.


G Eric Maynor, VCU
Maynor had 22 points in a surprising loss to Hampton, but he came back to lead the Rams to a huge win over Maryland with 25 points.


Bob McClellan is the college basketball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at bmcclellan@rivals.com.



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