The senior sharpshooter scores 22 of his 28 points in the second to lead UW back from eight points down. Nigel Williams-Goss adds 20 points, six assists and just one turnover. The Huskies (3-3) host Long Beach State on Saturday.
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE – When the Huskies needed it most -- with an uncomfortable game with Montana hanging in the balance and his team scuffling with the latest on-the-fly change of an improvisational early season -- their senior sharpshooter turned back into Three-J Wilcox.
C.J.-to-the-Rescue scored eight points in 2½ minutes, including consecutive swishes from 3-point range in front of his team’s relieved bench, during the decisive stretch midway through the second half. Wilcox’s 28 points, 22 after halftime, rallied Washington to an 83-79 victory over the Grizzlies Tuesday night before an announced crowd of 6,062 at Alaska Airlines Arena.
“Every game is a learning experience,” Wilcox said, accurately encapsulating a team that has changed its offense from high post to guard motion and now its defense from deny on the wings to pack the lane in a span of six games plus injuries to Jernard Jarreau (for the season) and Desmond Simmons (until mid to late December).
Wilcox has scored 24, a career-high 30 and now 28 points in three games over the last six days. He made five of eight 3-point shots Tuesday, and is 11 for 15 from deep in his last two starts.
Freshman Nigel Williams-Goss finished with 20 points, six assists, just one turnover and more heady play. Perris Blackwell had 13 points and nine rebounds with two blocked shots for the Huskies (3-3), who rallied from eight points down in the first half. They didn’t get their first lead until 26:58 into the tense game.
Wilcox, the fifth-year senior, made five of his first six shots in the second half, after Williams-Goss had kept UW afloat in the first.
“Definitely, me being a fifth-year senior, having the experience, having been there before, I take it upon myself to take control," said Wilcox, who finished two points off his career high set Friday against Boston College in New York.
"But we did it on the defensive end, more than anything."
Yet it took a while.
The Huskies had problems most of the night with Jordan Gregory and Keron DeShields of Montana (1-3). Each made nine of his first 12 shots, as the Grizzlies led by eight points multiple times in the first half.
The reason Montana lead 42-36 at halftime was because it shot 71 percent. The reason the Griz were 15 for 21? The Huskies left them far too open outside early, because of mistakes with the pregame scouting report. UW switched off screens onto the wrong men and left the wrong shooters way too open.
Even with the defensive breakdowns, coach Lorenzo Romar invoked his favorite snack to describe Montana's blistering shooting at the start.
"I'm close to betting a pack of 'Red Vines' that no one will shoot 71 percent again (this season)," he said.
Still, he acknowledged: "We did a better job defensively in the second half. We kept telling out team as soon as we can string together a couple of stops we will get a chance to take the lead.
"And we did."
UW is in flux defensively and otherwise after losing Jarreau to reconstructive knee surgery, losing Simmons to arthroscopic knee surgery, having Shawn Kemp Jr. playing through Graves Disease in his thyroid and watching Hikeem Stewart leave this week in search of a transfer.
Romar has demanded for 12 years his teams pressure the ball outside and deny passes to the wings. But this team isn’t deep enough and has yet to prove it is quick or aware enough to challenge outside. Or when it does — as in the 102-84 loss to Indiana last week in New York — the NCAA’s new emphasis on defensive-contact fouls this season has burned UW into deep, debilitating foul trouble.
So now the Huskies use a shortened rotation of seven players and mostly four guards, with Blackwell and 6-foot-5 Mike Anderson as a de factor small forward. And beginning this week they are trying to help more off the ball and sag into the lane to deny drives inside. The change began Monday in practice, so it – like most of this young season for Washington – is a work in progress.
The new defensive plan will continue Saturday when Washington hosts Long Beach State (1-6) on Saturday at 3:30 p.m.
“We are trying to protect the paint more,” Romar explained. “Because of the rules, I just found that maybe we play a little tentative outside.
“Maybe now we are more in the driving lanes instead of the passing lanes.”
Montana exploited that by staying outside in the first half, and sometimes stepped out way beyond the 3-point arc. The result: The Grizzlies were as open in that first half as the real bears that freely roam their state’s Glacier National Park. Montana was 9 for its first 15 (60 percent) from 3-point range.
So the Dawgs were getting their chances on offense. To win, they needed to step up — literally — on defense.
Romar gathered his assistants for a talk at the start of halftime, and it was an upbeat one. He then relayed the message to the players.
“They shot 71 percent and we were only down by six,” Romar said. “We were optimistic if we could get stops we could get in the lead.”
In the second half, they did.
Williams-Goss again proved he’s poised and savvy in the final seconds.
Montana’s Chris Kemp was 0 for 2 on free throws when Blackwell fouled him during a made basket with 11.9 seconds to go. Up 80-79, Romar called two time outs to let Kemp think more about the potential tying foul shot. Then Blackwell and teammates criss-crossed the lane before the official gave the ball to Kemp, creating more of a delay.
Sufficiently iced, Kemp shot the free throw too hard off the back rim. Wilcox then made two free throws to put Washington up 82-79. During those foul shots Romar instructed whoever was guarding the ball to foul when the ball crossed half court. Williams-Goss calmly and dutifully did just that, sending DeShields to the line for a one-and-one chance before he could get off a potentially tying 3. DeShields missed the first free throw. Blackwell added a foul shot with 2 seconds left for the Huskies’ clinching point.
“We’ve been through a lot already,” Wilcox said of this first month of the season, “but I think we’ve handled it well. Obviously, it would be a different story if we had all our guys.
“We all have to do more to get by without our guys. We are learning on the fly this season. Hopefully we will have it down by the time Pac-12 season starts.”