Nov. 30, 2010
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
"I don't think he understands how good a shooter he is," Thomas said, shaking his head over Washington's dead-eye redshirt freshman. "I mean, if I was that good of a shooter, I'd shoot every time I got the ball."
If Wilcox had, the Huskies might have won by 60 Tuesday night.
Instead, 23rd-ranked Washington settled for Wilcox launching a season-high 20 points in 23 dazzling minutes, when he rained threes off the bench and onto bamboozled Long Beach State. That sent the Huskies to a 102-75 victory over the 49ers at Hec Edmundson Pavilion that was far easier than their intense Maui Invitational last week.
"Man, he's one of the best shooters I've ever played with or against," Thomas said of Wilcox, who made six of eight 3-pointers.
"What, he missed two?" Thomas said, in semi-disbelief. "That's a bad night for him."
Thomas was far from horrible for the Huskies (4-2). He responded from poor shooting in Maui with 19 points, six assists and six rebounds.
The 5-8 junior continually set up teammates for open looks inside and on the perimeter. Abdul Gaddy got some of those for his 17 points, and senior Matthew Bryan-Amaning responded to being benched for the first time since last February with 14 points on 7-for-7, dunk-filled shooting. Bryan-Amaning added five rebounds and four blocks - twice his season block total coming in.
These suddenly long-range Dawgs shot a season-high 61 percent over Long Beach State's zone defense, showing they have indeed moved on from consecutive tough losses in Maui last week to then-No.8 Kentucky and then-second-ranked Michigan State.
The Huskies were an impressive 14-for-26 from 3-point range, suggesting their hallmark of dashing drives to the basket from guards that began with Nate Robinson years ago and continues today with Thomas now has a new compliment: Consistent, long-range shooting.
That makes Washington potentially more dangerous than the team that is returning four starters after winning the Pac-10 tournament championship last spring and then marching to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.
"It makes teams really want to guard us (outside)," Thomas said. "We can penetrate and now pass back out.
"Coach always says, `We you have an open shot, shoot the ball.' And we've got a lot of 3-point shooters. This is probably how we are going to play. I mean, every game we've shot well we've won."
Texas Tech on Saturday will be the next to face the barrage of Wilcox, who bettered the 17 points he had against Virginia last week to start the Maui tournament.
Wilcox's big night was also redemptive. He missed a 3-pointer with 5 seconds remaining and the Huskies down by three against Michigan State last week in the third-place game of that loaded Maui Invitational. He only played 3 minutes that day, and afterward coach Lorenzo Romar apologized to his shooter for putting him in such a tough spot, so cold off the bench.
"Just move forward," was Wilcox's approach after Hawaii.
The sharpshooting All-State scorer in high school in suburban Salt Lake City was schooled on shooting fundamentals since the fifth grade by his father, Craig.
"His dad did a phenomenal job," appreciative Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar deadpanned of the elder Wilcox, a former player at Brigham Young.
The younger Wilcox redshirted his freshman year last season when he saw UW's talent logjam at guard. He admitted watching got more difficult as Washington surged to the Pac-10 tournament championship and then the third round of the NCAA tournament last spring.
But he found one plus: Still being able to practice with the Huskies. That allowed his teammates to get used to how good a shooter he is.
"We practiced the whole year together, so they know my tendencies, know where to find me," Wilcox said. "And now it's paying off."
Yes, it is.
He was swishing almost as soon as he entered with Bryan-Amaning, about 3 minutes in Tuesday. That was after Long Beach State (3-4) led 2-0. The Huskies then swamped the 49ers with a 10-0 run, and that was pretty much that.
Many of Wilcox's 3's came while open from a corner, as if Long Beach didn't know about him or couldn't find him. It was the first time a Husky had five 3-pointers in a game since Justin Dentmon in February 2009.
Bryan-Amaning was benched at the start in favor of 7-footer center Aziz N'Diaye, whom Romar was rewarding for being "fantastic" in Maui. Bryan-Amaning shot 8 for 21 and had just eight rebounds combined in the losses to Kentucky and Michigan State in Hawaii.
Bryan-Amaning got most of his points Tuesday by overpowering the smaller 49ers inside. He bullied them on defense, too, blocking three shots in his first 13 minutes off the bench.
It was an emphatic response to not starting for the first time since Feb. 11 against California last season. His return to the lineup the next game that month sparked the Huskies' late season surge to the Pac-10 tournament championship and NCAA tournament, with his strong scoring and rebounding inside.
"(Romar) told me it's not permanent," said the 6-9 forward from London, who termed his Maui showing "lackadaisical" -- yet still played 25 minutes Tuesday. "If I show what I can do, I will be in there. It all starts in practice."
Long Beach got to within 14 points 7 minutes into the second half, and Romar was still grousing afterward about the lack of defensive intensity after halftime.
Holiday finished with 11 points on 5-for-7 shooting. And Venoy Overton had 10 points, eight assists and three steals while again hawking opponents into multiple turnovers.