A year ago, Washington guard C.J. Wilcox was ready to bolt to the NBA, but a foot injury prompted his return to school.
After Saturday’s 24-point performance in the Washington men’s basketball team’s harder-than-expected 82-75 win over USC, he wanted to stick around with the Huskies for as long as possible.
The soft-spoken, fifth-year senior knew this was his final regular-season home game, so he soaked it all in.
Nearly an hour after the game, Wilcox stood on the Alaska Airlines Arena floor in his white No. 23 jersey and shorts, signing autographs, posing for pictures and saying goodbye to UW fans.
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When everyone left, he sat in the stands for few minutes surrounded by family members.
“He’s tired,” said Wilcox’s father Craig. “It’s been a long haul. But I think he’ll miss all of this maybe more than he even realizes.”
Wilcox, the unheralded recruit from Pleasant Grove, Utah, who became one of the most prolific scorers in UW history, agreed.
“Yeah, maybe so,” he said. “It’s all part of the college experience. The fans. Getting to know these people. They take you in for 4 to 5 years and you grow up here.
“It’s going to be tough to leave because I’ve had some good times here.”
Despite a challenging season filled with many disappointments, Wilcox made sure his last memory at Alaska Airlines Arena was a good one.
During a Senior Day ceremonies that included Perris Blackwell and Connor Smith, Wilcox walked on the floor one last time for pregame introductions flanked by family members and barely cracked a smile.
“Last game here, so try to go out with a bang,” he said following a 24-point performance that included three three-pointers and 9-for-9 shooting at the free-throw line.
When the game began, Wilcox uncharacteristically came out firing early but the UW offense sputtered in the first half against USC’s pesky 2-3 zone and shot 32.4 percent from the field.
Washington trailed 37-35 at the break, which led to plenty of blank stares and grimaces from many of the 7,337 inside the building.
The Huskies have been on the receiving end of several momentum-turning runs in the second half.
This time, they charged out of the locker room after the break and ran off 15 unanswered points to erase a 37-35 halftime deficit and surge ahead 50-37.
Washington’s spurt included several highlight plays, including a high-flying, left-handed dunk from Shawn Kemp Jr. that was reminiscent of his famous father who starred for the Sonics.
Wilcox’s fast-break layup and free throw capped a 22-3 run and pushed Washington ahead by 17 points (57-40) for its largest lead at the 13:42 mark. The Huskies held the Trojans to 2-of-12 shooting during the decisive stretch.
“Defense,” coach Lorenzo Romar said. “It’s as simple as that. The first 5 to 6 minutes, we only ran half-court offense one time because we were getting deflections and steals, forcing them to take shots that maybe they didn’t want to take.”
It was the best six-minute stretch Washington has played in a while, but USC refused to go away easily and cut the Huskies’ lead to five points (72-67) with 4:41 left.
Thanks to Andrew Andrews, who had 19 points, and Kemp’s 12, the Trojans never got any closer.
Nikola Jovanvic led USC (11-20, 2-16 Pac-12) with 21 points.
With the win, the Huskies (17-14, 9-9) matched last season’s conference record and finished in an eighth-place tie with Utah.
No. 9 seed Washington plays No. 8 Utah (20-10) at noon Wednesday in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas. They split the regular-season series, both winning at home.
Wilcox hopes he can extend his time with the Huskies for a few more weeks.
“My decision was coming back and helping these guys and trying to do my part to get them as far as we could,” he said. “We still have hopes of getting to the NCAAs, and that was the plan coming back.”
Percy Allen: 206-464-2278