C.J. Wilcox scores a career-high 31 points, 21 after halftime, with seven 3-pointers, and UW (11-6, 3-1 Pac-12) beats a ranked team for the first time since Isaiah Thomas went “cold blooded” on Arizona in the 2011 Pac-10 tournament championship.
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE – Even C.J. Wilcox, the soft-spoken senior with the lethal shot, admitted this one was "special."
He meant his Huskies’ first victory over a ranked team for the first time in nearly three years.
He could have been talking about his afternoon for the ages.
The Huskies’ leading scorer scorched No. 15 Colorado with a career-high 31 points, 21 after halftime. Wilcox scored 13 points in the first six minutes of the second half to turn a three-point deficit into a runaway, 71-54 victory Sunday afternoon at rockin’ Alaska Airlines Arena.
Wilcox made 12 of 18 shots including a career-best seven 3-pointers for Washington (11-6, 3-1 Pac-12), which last defeated a ranked opponent on March 12, 2011, when Isaiah Thomas went “cold blooded” to beat No. 16 Arizona in overtime in the Pac-10 tournament title game.
The belief is back.
The last time UW had beaten a team ranked as high as the 15th-ranked Buffaloes was on March 20, 2010. That was a win over eighth-ranked New Mexico in NCAA tournament behind Quincy Pondexter and Thomas that got the Huskies to their third Sweet 16 appearance under Romar.
"It's been a while," Wilcox said with a grin, knowing he was sitting out his first year at UW as a redshirt back then.
"C.J. was, obviously, sensational. He was in a zone," said coach Lorenzo Romar, who is now 17-11 against ranked teams at home in 12 years at Washington.
"When he is in a zone," Romar said, chuckling and using that adjective again, "he is pretty special."
Yet for all his wondrous rainbow jumpers from that sugary stroke, all Wilcox wanted to talk about was defense.
Washington, with seven new players, has a new defense that differs from the first 11 years under Romar. Instead of denying passing lanes all over the floor, especially outside in the half court, these Huskies play off to deny dribble penetration.
But Sunday -- as they did Wednesday in beating Utah at home, and last week in winning at Arizona State and almost beating No. 1 Arizona in Tucson -- the Dawgs also effectively jumped out off ball screens to contest outside shots.
Wilcox had a career high-tying four blocks plus two steals, as UW held Colorado (14-3, 3-1) to 35-percent shooting -- including 1 for 12 from 3-point range -- and its lowest point total in a game this season.
"I mean, it's huge," Wilcox said of this team's progress since losses to No. 24 San Diego State by seven, No. 10 Connecticut by 12 and top-ranked Arizona by nine this winter -- all after leading those games.
"Every week (in December) you could see when we changed defenses we were getting better and better. You could see entering the Pac-12 season (last week) that we were getting better.
"Now, we are getting the results."
Andrew Andrews had 14 points, a dozen after halftime, to help change a game that turned when Colorado leading scorer Spencer Dinwiddie was lost to a serious-looking knee injury late in the first half.
The Buffaloes (14-3, 3-1) were leading 25-22 then. UW made up 12 points in the 8 minutes of playing time that ensued.
Wilcox had 10 points when Dinwiddie's knee buckled -- the Buffs' star hobbled out of the arena after the game with a brace on his left knee. Wilcox had 21 points without Dinwiddie available to hound him defensively.
UW went on a 6-0 run immediately after Dinwiddie left, to cut the largest lead of the game by Colorado from seven points to just one.
Washington scored 39 of the game's next 57 points after Dinwiddie got hurt. That turned the three-point deficit into a lead that got as large as 61-43 with 6:46 remaining, on Wilcox's fifth made 3 in six tries to start the second half.
Wilcox scored 13 points in the first 6:04 after halftime, swishing 3s from the wings and slashing to the rim for scores when CU jumped out at him. Once, when a defender jumped out to him, Wilcox stepped further back and drained a 3 from a few feet in front of Romar standing at the UW bench.
The Huskies suddenly led 48-39. The buffaloed visitors called time out. And ol' Hec Ed was rockin' as much as it has in two seasons.
"It definitely changed when he went out," Wilcox said. "I don't know if it was the dynamic of the team that changed without him, or me being free more without him guarding me. But I got more open looks after that."
Romar credited the "heady" Williams-Goss for calling plays on the fly specifically for the white-hot Wilcox during the uprising.
Wilcox got to his career-high 31 points with a fitting flourish, a rare, two-handed dunk off a steal that was, like the Huskies' second half, a breakaway.
Second-leading scorer Askia Booker, a 6-foot-2 guard, was the obvious next lead option for CU once Dinwiddie went down. But Wilcox, 6-4 Mike Anderson and UW's guards smothered Booker into the first scoreless game of the junior's career at Colorado, on 0-for-9 shooting.
As mentioned, it all starts with defense with these Huskies. Even through Wilcox going off.
Colorado had beaten Kansas and Oregon. Its only losses entering Sunday had been to Baylor and to Oklahoma State, both ranked.
Then Wilcox happened.
That improved UW’s record over the first four conference games since January 2011 to 14-2.
Wilcox blocked shots, dived to the floor for loose balls and took charges that had his coach roaring approval off the Huskies’ bench during a first half that was long on scrap yet short on points.
CU led 29-26 despite Wilcox’s best all-around half of the season, even without him shooting a free throw and with him grabbing just one rebound.
He did just about everything else.
Freshman Nigel Williams-Goss’ drive and score off a runner in the lane — his third such move for 2 in the half — has Washington within three of the Buffs at the break. Williams-Goss joined Wilcox with 10 points to keep the Huskies in it during a first half in which they trailed by as many as seven, and with big men Perris Blackwell and Shawn Kemp Jr. on their way to bench time with four fouls each.
"I just think that we have a lot of weapons," said Williams-Goss, who finished with 12 points, two assists and two turnovers in 35 minutes, "and we play really unselfishly."
Not just on offense. That is why this season has U-turned into one of promise, with a place near the top of the Pac-12 entering games at California Wednesday and at Stanford Saturday.
"Oh, it's big," Romar said. "You can see our guys taking more ownership on the defensive end of the floor. Then when you are rewarded with the win it increases this attitude.