With C.J. Wilcox hounded by a 6-foot-10 blanket all day, UW’s freshman point guard goes bonkers from inside and out to set a Husky freshman scoring record. And the Huskies rally from 12 points down with 18 minutes left to improve to 5-3 in the Pac-12. Next up: At Washington State next Saturday afternoon (3 p.m./Pac-12 Networks).
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE – Like a maestro who could hit all the right notes himself every night but leads the orchestra to wider efficiency instead, Nigel Williams-Goss could have done this before.
The Huskies’ beyond-his-19-years freshman point guard went off for 41 points in a game last year during his final high school season at Findlay Prep. That was a school record for that national powerhouse outside Las Vegas. Almost a year ago Saturday, on national television against the No. 1 high-school team in the country, he scored 18 of his game-high 26 points in the fourth quarter to extend Findlay’s winning streak to 42 games. That got him into last spring’s McDonald’s All-America game in Chicago.
Sure, that was high school.
This was historic.
Williams-Goss set the Washington freshman scoring record with 32 points Saturday afternoon by wowing the stunned Oregon State Beavers, if not his mom and dad up from Las Vegas and sitting in the first row yet again, with corner 3-pointers. With fast slashes from the wing. With daring, steely drives at the rim against guys seven inches taller than he.
His dazzling day rescued Washington, sparking a 22-point turnaround over 11, remarkable minutes. And these revived Huskies roared back to an 87-81 victory Saturday afternoon at electric Alaska Airlines Arena.
“It’s in me. But like I tell people, I do whatever the team needs me to do to win,” Williams-Goss said of his suddenly prolific college scoring; he entered Saturday averaging 12.1 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game in his debut season.
He was smiling in the team tunnel leading from the floor, a few minutes after his wowing outburst improved the Huskies to 12-8 overall and 5-3 for fourth place in the Pac-12 -- beneath which most thought UW would be buried by now.
Washington coach Lorenzo Romar called Williams-Goss’ show the best performance by a freshman in the history of Hec Edmundson Pavilion. The building opened in 1927.
He was right. Turns out, it was the best scoring game by a first-year Husky -- anywhere -- since freshmen became eligible for NCAA varsity basketball for the 1972-73 season.
Williams-Goss noticed Oregon State using quick, 6-foot-10 Eric Moreland to stifle Washington’s 6-5 leading scorer C.J. Wilcox all afternoon. With Wilcox having just four points on five shots, the Huskies were down by a dozen points to the Beavers with 18 minutes left.
"No one had to tell me anything. We needed a burst and it had to come from somewhere," Williams-Goss said.
"When you are in a flow like that, everything just comes so much more easily."
If only we could all find a flow like that.
“(It’s) the ‘C.J. effect,’” Williams-Goss said. “When he comes off screens, two guys jump at him and it open up everyone on the floor, not just me. When you play with such a prolific scorer like C.J., it’s much easier.”
But this easy?
Williams-Goss made 10 of 15 shots. The point guard had three assists, one steal and no -- zero -- turnovers in 34 minutes running the Huskies' offense. The flawless day came against a much taller Oregon State team that stayed in man-to-man defense for most of the game.
His brilliant breakdown of the Beavers came in front of not only his folks, Valerie and Virgil, but 11-time NBA champion and Naismith Hall of Famer Bill Russell, who lives in the Seattle suburb of Mercer Island, plus SuperSonics legend “Downtown” Freddy Brown. They were sitting in the first row, opposite the Huskies’ bench with Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer.
Those local heroes got quite a show – from Seattle’s newest kid star.
"What a performance,” said Romar, after his 250th victory in 12 seasons leading UW. “So efficient.
“He was in one of those zones. Not a shooting zone. Not a scoring zone. Just whole-game zone.”
It was 45-33 Oregon State with 18 minutes to go following a 3-pointer by the Beavers’ Angus Brandt. Then Washington’s Andrew Andrews hit a hugely needed 3-pointer from the top left beyond the key. Williams-Goss took off from the left wing on a bold, bullish drive through Brandt and score. He hit a 3-pointer from the deep right wing directly in front of his impressed-but-not-surprised coaches, part of his 3-for-4 shooting from bonus range.
Williams-Goss kept driving, getting fouled and making two more free throws; he was 9 for 10 from the foul line. Moreland then had to come off Wilcox some to pay more attention to Williams-Goss, allowing Wilcox free for a jumper, a put-back dunk and a jumper. Suddenly, the game was tied at 55 with 11 minutes left.
After one of five rebounds by Mike Anderson, the scrapping transfer Romar called the “unsung hero of this game,” Wilcox hit another long jumper with 10:42 remaining for two of his 14 points. The Beavers were stunned, looking around as if searching for where that 12-point lead could have gone. The crowd was going bonkers. The Huskies had a lead they never released.
And they didn’t stop there.
Williams-Goss dribbled past two Beavers from the left wing into the center of the lane for a deft, floating runner that Romar said Nigel learned while as a 13-year old playing against 17-year olds in the Portland-area AAU select circuit.
“He said that was the only way he could get a shot off against those guys,” Romar said.
Obviously feeling it, Williams-Goss then swished another 3-pointer, after a kick-out pass by the heady Perris Blackwell. UW’s lone starting post got whacked by taller, triple-teaming Beavers inside all day yet finished with 10 points, seven rebounds and three assists.
When Blackwell and emerging, healthier Shawn Kemp Jr. scored consecutively inside, the latter after a string of exquisite interior passes from Wilcox and then Anderson, the Huskies had turned that 12-point hole into a shocking, 68-58 lead with 7:09 left.
The closest Oregon State got from there was 78-75 with 1:07 to go. Then Williams-Goss struck again. He put his head down and flipped in a score off the glass while getting knocked to the floor with 44 seconds to go. The free throw and 3-point play was the finishing blow, putting UW up 81-75.
The Huskies next play at Washington State next Saturday afternoon with a supposedly improbable chance to improve to 6-3 in the conference.
If the WSU decides to pull out a 6-10 guy onto Wilcox, Williams-Goss will be ready to change in a Pullman phone booth and become super-scorer man again.
Only if that’s what his team needs, of course.
“I feel really good with where we are going. We are improving continuously,” Williams-Goss said. “We are really having fun. We are defending. We are excited for the second half of the Pac-12 season.”