The 4:30 p.m. matchup at Hartford's XL Center on ESPN2 is UW's final test before next week's Pac-12 opener and one last chance to knock off a big-name, nonconference opponent.
For C.J. Wilcox and the Washington Huskies, Saturday’s game at Connecticut is a chance to show they truly belong on the big stage with a college basketball powerhouse.
Washington has feasted on lesser competition the past two weeks while building a four-game winning streak.
The 4:30 p.m. matchup at Hartford’s XL Center on ESPN2 is UW’s final test before next week’s Pac-12 opener and one last chance to knock off a big-name, nonconference opponent.
Washington is 1-1 against teams from BCS conferences — an 84-73 overtime win over Seton Hall and a 77-66 defeat to Ohio State in mid November in the Tip-Off Hall Fame Tournament in Connecticut.
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“If we get this win, then it would kind of make up for where we messed up early in the season,” Wilcox said. “It would be a big win.”
Washington (8-4) is still searching for a signature victory in a season that’s included surprising defeats to Albany and Nevada. According to the RPI, its best win is against Saint Louis — which is 77th in that index.
UConn (9-2) is 25th in the RPI, and a road win for UW would bode well in March if the Huskies are on the bubble and in need of an at-large berth into the NCAA tournament.
“We had our first dose of playing on a big stage against Ohio State, and I think we handled it OK,” Wilcox said. “I think we can be better. If we’re dialed in and focused, we can win the game.”
The allure of the nonconference matchup lost some luster during a tumultuous offseason for Connecticut.
Due to sub-standard scores on the Academic Progress Rate, UConn was banned from the 2013 postseason. Legendary coach Jim Calhoun retired in September with two years remaining on his contract.
Connecticut also suffered a mass exodus of players, including Andre Drummond and Jeremy Lamb, who were taken in the NBA draft, and Alex Oriakhi and Roscoe Smith, who transferred to Missouri and UNLV, respectively.
Despite the losses, the 2010 national champions have been impressive this season under the guidance of new coach Kevin Ollie. Guards Shabazz Napier, who averages 16.8 points, and Ryan Boatwright, who averages 16.1, have led the way while the big men have been serviceable.
Connecticut’s backcourt should provide a formidable test for Wilcox, who averages a team-high 19.6 points, third in the Pac-12.
The 6-5 junior guard has scored in double figures in every game. He leads UW with 16 blocks and is third with a 4.5 rebounding average.
Wilcox is one of the best shooters in the Pac-12, and he has also taken on the role of defensive stopper.
It’s been a major transformation for the unheralded three-star prospect from Pleasant Grove, Utah, who redshirted as a freshman and has not started more than 12 games in a season.
“I knew coming in with the guards we had — we had five people in front of me — that I really didn’t want to waste a year not playing or playing three minutes a game,” Wilcox said. “That’s why I redshirted. There were times people would say I wish you could play because we weren’t shooting the ball very well.
“But I knew it would pay off later.”
Coach Lorenzo Romar likened Wilcox’s maturation to Brandon Roy and Quincy Pondexter, former UW players who developed into stars after four years in the program.
“Sometimes when it’s your turn, you step up,” Romar said. “We’ve had other guys do that. When it’s their turn, they really stepped up.
“C.J. has really improved in all areas of the game. He’s not just one-dimensional.”
The additional responsibilities feel familiar to Wilcox.
“I did a little bit of everything in high school,” he said. “My squad wasn’t the greatest, so I had to do a little bit more. When I came here, other people were doing all of those things, so I had to dial it back and just take a few shots.
“Now my role is kind of being back to what it was in high school. I’m having to do a little more.”
• Saturday’s matchup is the first meeting between Washington and Connecticut since the 2006 NCAA Sweet Sixteen, a 98-92 overtime Connecticut win. UConn beat UW 75-74 in the Sweet 16 on a last-second shot in 1998. UW is 0-3 in the series.
Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @percyallen