The fifth-year senior scores 12 of his points in a roaring start to the second half for the Huskies (17-14, 9-9 Pac-12). They now head to Las Vegas for Wednesday’s first-round game of the Pac-12 tournament against Utah.
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE –C.J. Wilcox did the modern-day unheard of, volunteering to redshirt upon arriving at UW.
He stayed in his understated character throughout the Huskies’ pregame Senior Day festivities at Alaska Airlines Arena. With his father Craig, the former BYU player who taught him to shoot as a kid, his mother Mandy, his little brother Tyson and his grandparents walking out with him, C.J. accepted his framed, Huskies game jersey -- and barely cracked a bashful smile.
“Yeah,” he said, nodding his head. “Just a real special moment. Happy to get my family out on the floor and stand where I stand. So it was really special in that regard. I told myself I wasn’t going to get emotional. I made sure that didn’t happen.”
The noise and pride showed through in his game – yet again. Just as it has here for four seasons.
Wilcox scored 12 of his 24 points in a roaring start to the second half, when the Huskies turned a two-point deficit into a 17-point lead. The sharpshooter also did far more than shoot. He had eight rebounds, three steals, two assists, one blocked shot in a fittingly exquisite end to his home career, Washington’s 82-75 victory over USC Saturday afternoon.
“C.J. Wilcox: Special,” coach Lorenzo Romar said of the second-leading career scorer and leading 3-point shooter in UW basketball history. “Special player. Special young man.”
In a season in which he has often deferred to teammates rather than force shots against constant double teams, Wilcox came out with one intention for his final home game.
“Yeah, last game here,” Wilcox said, grinning over the change. “Trying to go out with a bang.”
Andrew Andrews scored 19 points and joined Wilcox in sparking the blitz to begin the second half for Washington (17-14, 9-9 Pac-12), before USC (11-20, 2-16) used a trapping press to get that lead down to 72-67 with 4:30 left.
Nigel Williams-Goss, who finished with nine assists to set the UW freshman season record with 137 before fouling out, then hit a huge 3 from the left corner. That came after a nifty, hockey-like back pass with a flick of the wrist by Andrews and restored the Huskies’ eight-point lead.
The Huskies made 27 of 31 free throws – 8 for 8 by Andrews and 9 for 9 by Wilcox – to maintain that lead late.
Now, the crux of the season, and Washington’s last hope of making the NCAA tournament.
The Huskies are ninth seed in the conference tournament, and will play eighth-seeded Utah (20-10, 9-9) Wednesday at noon in Las Vegas to begin the tournament at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. The Huskies and Utes split two regular-season games, with each winning at home.
The winner of that opening first-round game will play league regular-season champion Arizona (28-3, 15-3) on Thursday at noon in quarterfinals.
"We still have high hopes to playing well in the tournament," said Andrews, who consistently drove into USC's zone defense to create chances for teammates or himself at the foul line.
UW will need to win four games in four days to make the NCAA tournament for the first time in three years, by earning the league’s automatic bid. The Huskies had the same daunting task last year and won its opener against Washington State before losing in overtime in the quarterfinals to the eventual tournament champion, Oregon.
Wilcox was playing with a hairline fracture in his foot then, barely able to get through an entire game pain free let alone play on consecutive nights.
After surgery last spring, he and his scoring average of 18.5 points per game are fully capable of consecutive standout games next week.
"Yeah, it definitely helps, me being healthy this time," Wilcox said. "I'm a lot more confident I can do the back to backs.
“We still have hopes to get to the NCAA tournament. I think once we get there, see the environment, see how exciting it is, guys will step up.”With seeding at stake, the Huskies came in seeking momentum for the tournament following a 91-82 loss Thursday night to second-place UCLA that UW felt it let slip away. But Saturday’s first half was not what the Dawgs were looking for.
The offense versus USC’s 2-3 zone was stagnant, with far too much standing around and dribbling. Romar yelled “MOVE!” more than once at his Huskies, whose 32 percent shooting in the half would have been in the 20s without Wilcox going 3 for 6. That included 2 for 4 from 3-point range, increasing Wilcox’s school record for made 3-pointers to 298.
The start of the second half was like a new game. The Huskies swarmed defensively, pressuring USC outside to create turnovers, havoc and fastbreak points.
It always comes back to defense with this team. Lapses Thursday are why the Huskies lost to UCLA in a game they led at the half.
Wilcox had seven points and Williams-Goss three of his nine assists during Washington's 15-0 run to start Saturday's second half, when the 37-35 deficit at the break transformed into a 50-37 lead with 15:50 remaining.
"He did it today. He knows he doesn't have too many game left with us," Romar said of Wilcox being far more aggressive with his shot on Saturday.
"We are going to need him to be that way on Wednesday.
"If we go out and we are not distracted on defense and share the ball, not try to force things and do too much, if we do that we have just as good a chance as anybody.
"We don't have to be supernatural, shoot 70% or have the other team making a ton of mistakes. We just have to play to the best of our ability."