C.J. Wilcox scores 18 of his 23 points after halftime, and the Huskies rally to a 73-67 win in their final non-conference game. UW (7-5) opens Pac-12 play Thursday night at Arizona State.
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE – The points weren’t flowing freely. The shots weren’t falling.
But the Huskies stayed focused. They teetered, but they didn’t topple. And, ultimately, they won.
That is why coach Lorenzo Romar feels better about the start of Pac-12 conference play than he did before Sunday’s game against Hartford.
C.J. Wilcox scored 18 of his 23 points in the second half. Those included the clinching free throws that finally put Hartford away with 17 seconds remaining in a sweaty, 73-67 victory for Washington on Sunday night at relieved Alaska Airlines Arena.
The final score was UW’s largest lead of the night.
Andrew Andrews scored 19 points, 13 of which kept the Huskies in it during a sluggish first half. The guard secured a key rebound late for Washington (8-5), which opens league play Thursday night at Arizona State and Saturday at No. 1 Arizona.
“Two things had been bothering me,” Romar said after the non-conference season ended along with two, alarming trends. “We kept our focus. And he turned the ball over seven times, which was our season low.
“I would say we are much further along now to go out on the road.”
The Huskies did extend one season-long trend to win this one: They made 26 of 30 free throws, many of them late. Washington entered the night fourth in the NCAA with a 76.5 team free-throw percentage. Andrews made 11 of 13 foul shots, to offset 3-for-12 shooting from the field.
With the Huskies ahead by one and 5 minutes to go, Wilcox made three of four foul shots. The first two were gifts that changed the game. Hartford’s Corban Wroe inexplicably charged and Wilcox and then woofed at him after Wroe had fouled UW’s leading scorer during a to-the-floor tussle. Wroe got a technical foul for that bone-headed lapse, and Wilcox made both technical free throws.
“He was trying to fight, I guess,” Wilcox said, with a sly grin. “I really don’t know what he was doing. He was mad about something, maybe earlier in the game.”
Wilcox’s three made free throws in the sequence pushed Washington’s lead to 61-57 in a game it had trailed by as many as five points.
“It gave us a little bit of breathing room,” Romar said. “That was the first time in a while we got some separation.”
With the taut game tied and 90 seconds left, Nigel Williams-Goss showed how he’s savvy beyond his 19 years. He grabbed a rebound, his third of the game for the point guard, off a Hartford miss by Bellevue, Wash., native Nate Sikma. Then Williams-Goss ran the floor and nodded for Perris Blackwell to peel back and set an open-court ball screen. UW’s lone big man complied. That freed the freshman for a pull-up, 15-foot jumper from the right side to put the Huskies ahead 67-65 with 1:16 remaining.
“Perris, I told him all game to set the transitional ball screen,” said Williams-Goss, who finished with 11 points, five assists and just one turnover after a recent spate of giveaways. “He just stepped up and created a wide-open elbow jumper for me.”
Sikma missed again from outside following a timeout. UW’s Andrews secured the backside rebound, the 6-foot-2 guard’s fifth board. He was fouled immediately. After another timeout Andrews made both free throws to put Washington up 69-65 with 59.1 seconds to go.
Hartford’s Yolonzo Moore made a driving layup to cut the lead to two. Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar called timeout with 19.6 seconds remaining to draw a clinching play, which was a cross-court inbounds pass from Andrews to Wilcox. The senior sharpshooter drove from the foul line to the rim and got fouled. Wilcox made the essentially clinching free throws for a 71-67 lead and his final two points.
“Exactly what we wanted. Isolate C.J. and him go to the rim,” Romar said.
Andrews had 13 of the Huskies’ first 28 points, as Washington had a tough time early getting shots to fall consistently inside on forays into Hartford’s 2-3 zone defense. Washington trailed for most of the first half because Hartford made five of seven shots from 3-point range.
But a 3-pointer from Williams-Goss with a minute left in the opening period gave UW a 31-29 lead at halftime.
Romar blamed himself for calling too many different offenses versus that zone in the first half. In the second half, he released the Dawgs to just play, freeing them with more guard-motion plays usually employed against man-to-man defenses.
Then midway through the second half Hartford did a curious thing: It went man on defense. You could also hear Wilcox and Andrews celebrate inside themselves. Then came Wilcox’s cavalcade of points late.
“Yeah, I love playing against man to man,” said Wilcox, who made four of five shots in the second half. “That zone was tough ...
“Man,” Andrews interjected, “I didn’t know what they were in.”
“But when they went man,” Wilcox said, “our eyes lit up. It let us play the way we like to play.”
Andrews didn’t score or even take a shot for the first 12 minutes of the second half.
The game stayed tight from there, with Wilcox’s two free throws giving UW at 53-52 lead with 7 minutes left but Sikma – son of Sonics’ legend Jack – making a 3 to put Hartford (5-9) back up 55-53.
But then Wilcox answered with a 3-pointer from the right side. His third 3 in as many tries after halftime gave Washington back the lead, 58-57, with 5:30 remaining.
And so it went, back and forth to the end.
“We still have room to grow,” Wilcox said. “Guys that haven’t been here (transfer Blackwell, Williams-Goss and fellow newcomer starter Mike Anderson, plus freshmen Darin Johnson and Jahmel Taylor) are going to find out what it’s like playing in our conference, but I think we will have a really good learning curve.
“After a couple of league games, to see how we have to play, once we get that I think we will be better in playing to our potential.”