C.J. Wilcox scores 17 points, freshman Nigel Williams-Goss runs the team like a senior and Desmond Simmons has the key defensive play late as UW (14-11, 6-6 Pac-12) comes home and ends a three-game skid. Next: Saturday at noon vs. California.
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE – You won’t find the play in a box score. And it may be the least glamorous play in basketball.
But what Desmond Simmons did Wednesday night with 5.5 seconds remaining and the Huskies defending a 62-60 lead may have saved Washington’s season.
It certainly epitomized what the Huskies have to do to win -- but have often failed to accomplish this uneven season.
Simmons responded to Stanford’s Chasson Randle, the Pac-12’s fourth-leading scorer, taking off down the left side of the lane on a drive for the tying basket. Always rugged and mindful of defense first, Simmons left the Cardinal big man he was guarding from behind in the low post. He planted both feet as if landing from a jump. He raised his arms toward the Alaska Airlines Arena ceiling.
Randle plowed into the wall-like Simmons as both Cardinal and Husky splatted onto the purple painted floor just in front of the rim. Official Chris Rastatter immediately and decisively signaled a charging foul on Randle.
“Those,” Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar said of Simmons’ very definition of help defense, “are the plays that win games.”
It won this one. The Huskies lifted Simmons off the floor as if he was a savior and the home crowd roared over his defensive gem, which forced Stanford to foul C.J. Wilcox with 4 seconds left. Wilcox made those two free throws to give Washington a 64-60 victory it had to have – and may not have gotten without Simmons.
“WAYYY TO TAKE THE CHARGE DESMOND!! That's Husky Basketball!” former Husky Scott Suggs tweeted immediately after Simmons’ winning play kept UW’s quest to finish in the top third of the Pac-12 alive.
Wilcox scored 17 points, including UW’s last four on foul shots in the final 55 seconds for Washington (14-11, 6-6 Pac-12). Nigel Williams-Goss had 16 points, five rebounds and five assists in 34 exquisite minutes that showed again how vital he is to this program at age 19. The freshman steadied a team that wobbled without him for 2 minutes of the second half when he hurt his hip.
And Mike Anderson had 13 points off the bench, including eight in a row at one point, after finally answering coaches’ call to shoot more.
But it was Simmons whom the Huskies celebrated most after ending a three-game losing streak – all on the road – and improving to 12-2 at home. This win came over a Stanford team that most currently have in the NCAA tournament field.
“We knew Randle was going to get the ball and try to make a play,” Wilcox said. “Dez just did what he always does. He made a really good defensive play.
Saved UW’s chance for a roaring finish to the regular season and momentum plus good seeding for the Pac-12 tournament that begins March 12 in Las Vegas.
“Stats don’t really show how much Dez affected this game,” Williams-Goss said. “He was huge for us.”
Fourth place is the goal now for Washington now, for a bye into the second round of the league tournament. UW is a half-game behind Stanford for sixth and for now one-and-a-half games behind third-place Arizona State, Colorado and California. The Golden Bears (16-8, 7-4) beat Washington State in overtime later Wednesday and are Saturday’s opponent for the Huskies at noon in another biggie at Alaska Airlines Arena.
“Yeah,” Romar said with a smile just outside the Huskies’ locker room after this grinding win, “we needed this one.”
The Dawgs couldn’t have cared less that Simmons had just four points to go with seven rebounds, two assists and one steal in 27 minutes.
“He was relentless,” Romar said of the 6-7 junior forward. “Those are the type of plays we expect Desmond to do.”
This was the first of the Huskies’ five home contests over their final seven regular-season games. The grit and intensity the Dawgs brought Wednesday compared to their 26-point loss Sunday night at Colorado showed how important games at ol’ Hec Ed are to this team.
The Huskies had lost three straight games on the road, at Washington State, at Utah and at Colorado. Asked to explain the night-and-day difference of his team from Sunday to Wednesday, Romar shrugged.
“My one answer right now is home versus road,” Romar said. “It’s unfortunate we haven’t played better on the road (where UW is 2-7) and we have to more road games (at Oregon and Oregon State next week). I think it’s pretty clear we just are a different team when we are at home.”
UW trailed by seven at halftime but then scored the first six points of the second half to force a Stanford timeout. When Anderson, who had just eight 3-point baskets in 24 games coming in, swished consecutive 3s off jump passes from Williams-Goss and Wilcox, the Huskies led 39-36 with 16 minutes to go. Anderson had eight consecutive points in the first four minutes of the second half, two points above his per-game average for the season.
When Williams-Goss left after getting banged on the hip pointer he’s had for two weeks, it was a tie game with 14 minutes left. The heady, smooth point guard was out for 2 minutes in the tunnel with trainer Pat Jenkins getting ice and treatment. In that time Stanford took a 46-41 lead and UW’s offense made two more of its 16 turnovers.
When he returned, Washington rallied back into the 10th and 11th ties of the game. The latter tie came when the 6-3 Williams-Goss went directly at Stanford’s 6-11 Stefan Nastic down the right side of the lane. The freshman swished his signature floating, running shot over Nastic as the big center fouled him and fouled out. Williams-Goss’ subsequent free throw and 3-point play tied the game at 58. Then Simmons hit a corner jumper with 2:25 left to put the Huskies ahead 60-59, setting set up the taut finish.
“We’ve been there before,” Wilcox said of the rally. “We’ve behind a lot and we’ve come back, especially at home.”
Wilcox, who had just missed two of four free throws while playing all 40 minutes, made two foul shots with 54.3 seconds left to put the Huskies ahead 62-59.
Two free throws by Randle set up the tense finish.
Stanford (15-8, 6-5) beat the Huskies by 12 in California last month using the same flood-on-Wilcox zone defense it used on Wednesday. Wilcox took just one shot in the game’s first 11 minutes, but then he began shooting over Stanford’s zone defense that constantly had 6-foot-7 Josh Huestis jumping out on him. Wilcox made three consecutive 3-pointers, the third from about U-Village that gave the Huskies a 23-21 lead with 5:57 left in the first half.
But Washington’s turnovers – 12 of them in the first half, one more than its number of made baskets – fueled Stanford’s 13-4 run before halftime. The Huskies went the final 3:44 of the half without scoring.
Given all that, it was something of a wonder that UW trailed only 34-27 at the break.
Given all they’ve done at home this season, the complete opposite of themselves on the road, it’s no wonder these Huskies still have hope that something big can happen for them in March.
“We still have a chance to win a lot of games, especially being at home,” Wilcox said. “We knew coming home we had a chance to change the momentum in our favor the rest of the year.”