Wilcox hits for career-high 24 points
For the longest time in the most important game of the season, no one could hit a shot for Washington.
Isaiah Thomas missed his first six field goals and Matthew Bryan-Amaning connected on two of eight as the Huskies stumbled at the start once again.
Their leading scorers never recovered offensively, and normally that’s a recipe for disaster. Especially against a red-hot team like UCLA, which had won 12 of its previous 14 games.
But in the most stunning reversal of the season, the Huskies gave the ball to C.J. Wilcox and the redshirt freshman carried them to a 70-63 victory that seemed improbable in the opening minutes.
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Wilcox played just six scoreless minutes in the first half.
He finished a 24-point virtuoso performance that had most of the 9,931 spectators in Edmundson Pavilion chanting “C-J, C-J” and had coach Lorenzo Romar searching for superlatives to describe what he had witnessed.
“You talk about what’s at stake tonight and he comes in and gets 24 in the second half. That’s a performance I’ll never forget,” Romar said. “That’s one of the greatest performances maybe in the history of the program.”
Washington trailed 25-24 at the break when Wilcox took over.
He drained a three-pointer within the first minute of the second half. Then he hit another long shot on UW’s next possession and suddenly Romar sensed UW’s three-point specialist had found his rhythm.
“You cannot fall asleep on him or he’s going to move to that spot,” Romar said. “And if he’s playing with guys who are looking for him a lot of times he’s going to get open.”
With Thomas (nine points on 3-for-12 shooting) and Bryan-Amaning (seven points on 3-for-11 shooting) struggling, the Huskies needed someone, anyone, to take the reins of the offense.
“The main key for us winning this game was how we defended,” senior co-captain Justin Holiday said. “It was good that we had C.J. step up and get us points because that was our problem, but it all started on the defensive end.
In the 80-69 defeat Sunday against Washington State, the Huskies trailed 24-17 at halftime and were outscored 56-52 in the second half.
“If we didn’t defend we would have lost this game, similar to what happened against Washington State,” Holiday said. “This game was different in that we got stops both halves and C.J. stepped up for us.”
Wilcox connected on 7 of 8 shots in the second half. He also drained 6 of 6 free throws.
At times, he couldn’t see the basket because a defender had a hand in his face, but he kept shooting.
“When coach started calling plays for me, I knew I had the hot hand,” Wilcox said. “So they were going to start going to me and I had to make shots.”
Nearly everything Wilcox threw at the rim went in, including a last-second prayer when the shot clock was expiring. UCLA’s Jerime Anderson bumped him to the floor, but Wilcox still made the basket.
The three-point play came at the tail end of a 14-0 run.
Trailing 53-49, Wilcox started the spurt with a three-pointer and Thomas finished the run with a pair of free throws to put UW up 63-53.
The Huskies went on a 21-10 run over the final six minutes.
“We had a one-point lead going into the half and we missed a shot, then he came down and got them going,” UCLA coach Ben Howland said. “With a player like him (Wilcox), your job is to make him bounce the ball. You play close enough so he cannot bring the ball up to shoot. He hit some big shots.”
Washington swept the regular-season series against the Bruins for the third time in the history of the program. The last time was 2006.
Despite the victory, Washington was eliminated from the Pac-10 regular-season championship after Arizona toppled Oregon State 70-59.
The Huskies (20-9, 11-6) still have a chance of finishing second in the conference. They trail UCLA (21-9, 12-5) by one game.
If Washington wins Saturday against USC and the Bruins lose at Washington State, the Huskies receive the No. 2 seed in the Pac-10 tournament next week.
“We just felt like our backs were against the wall,” Wilcox said. “We had to come out here and get it rolling because we can’t lose. We want to win out, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or email@example.com
Percentages: FG .397, FT .923. Three-point goals: 5-13, .385 (Anderson 4-6, Lee 1-4, Honeycutt 0-1, L. Jones 0-1, Nelson 0-1). Team rebounds: 1. Blocked shots: 6 (Honeycutt 3, Smith, Lee, Stover). Turnovers: 18 (Smith 5, Nelson 3, Anderson 3, Honeycutt 3, L. Jones 2, Lamb, Lane). Steals: 7 (Anderson 3, Lee 2, L. Jones, Nelson). Technical fouls: Nelson.
Percentages: FG .361, FT .714. Three-point goals: 6-15, .400 (Wilcox 4-7, Gant 1-2, Holiday 1-2, Suggs 0-1, Thomas 0-3). Team rebounds: 4. Blocked shots: 5 (Wilcox 2, Suggs, Gant, Holiday). Turnovers: 13 (Thomas 3, Holiday 3, Overton 2, N’Diaye 2, Suggs, Wilcox, Bryan-Amaning). Steals: 5 (Thomas 2, Suggs 2, Bryan-Amaning). Technical fouls: None.
Attendance: 9,931. Officials: Chris Rastatter, Michael Greenstein, Jim Giron.