CORVALLIS, Ore. — Catharsis flowed through Gill Coliseum like the afternoon sunlight through this old building’s windows, the Washington Huskies seemingly trying to make up for seven consecutive road defeats in one game.
Everything that has gone wrong for UW during the last two months was suddenly right against Oregon State, as the Huskies won, 86-62, and played perhaps their best basketball of the season in their final true road game.
They outrebounded the Beavers 43-23. They shot 57.4 percent from the field. Six players scored in double-figures, led by senior guard C.J. Wilcox, who snapped out of a four-game slump by scoring 23 points to move past Jon Brockman into second place on UW’s all-time scoring list.
So many times this season Lorenzo Romar has stood outside his team’s locker room, players trudging glumly from the showers to the bus, the coach explaining why they play so well at home but can’t do much right elsewhere.
Here was Romar on Saturday, finally with a positive result to dissect inside a structure not named after Hec Edmundson.
“For us to finish the road with a win like this, a convincing win, really does wonders for the mental aspect of our team right now,” Romar said.
Washington (15-13, 7-8 in Pac-12) has three regular-season games remaining, each of them at home. An NIT bid is still a longshot, but if the Huskies play as they did on Saturday, who knows?
This one was only close in the first half. OSU was having its way with UW’s defense, and would have led by more than its 25-19 margin had freshman guard Nigel Williams-Goss not navigated the Beavers’ defense so efficiently.
Williams-Goss scored or assisted on eight of UW’s first nine baskets, finishing the game with 14 points and a career-best 10 assists. He’s the only freshman in the Romar era to achieve that mark, and there must be something about playing the Beavers: his 32 points against OSU in Seattle on Jan. 25 were the most scored by a UW freshman in the modern era.
“He came out and played like he was a senior from the opening tip,” Romar said.
“I get pleasure out of winning, so I felt good after both games,” said Williams-Goss, asked which output he prefers. “Whatever we’ve got to do to win. Whether it’s zero points and 10 assists, or 10 points, zero assists. If we win, then I’m going to be good.”
Fittingly, UW took control once Wilcox started making shots. The senior had made only 12 of his past 44 shots entering the game, but scored seven consecutive points – a long jumper, a step-back 3-pointer and a clever floater – to key a 25-8 UW run that had the Huskies ahead by 11 points at halftime.
“I was struggling figuring out how to go at teams when they’re really focusing on you, as opposed to looking for my teammates more,” Wilcox said of his slump. “I had to get myself going early, then my teammates would feed off that.”
They did. While Wilcox was making 10-for-16 shots from the field, five other Huskies were chipping in with double-figure efforts, including Andrew Andrews (15 points, eight rebounds), Perris Blackwell (12 points, eight rebounds), Desmond Simmons (10 points, 11 rebounds) and Shawn Kemp Jr. (10 points), who started but played only 12 minutes.
UW’s lead was 16 points before OSU scored in the second half. It grew to 19, to 21, to as many as 25 before Romar emptied the bench. Every healthy, eligible player on UW’s roster played.
Roberto Nelson, who leads the Pac-12 in scoring, led OSU with 17 points.
OSU (14-12, 6-8) coach Craig Robinson surmised: “This was a game where we could spread the wealth on what happened wrong.”
That’s usually true of UW’s play on the road. This was the Huskies’ first road victory since their first Pac-12 road game, a 76-65 win at Arizona State on Jan. 2.
“I don’t think we ever really lost confidence or lost belief in ourselves,” Williams-Goss said. “We went into every game expecting to win. Obviously we didn’t do that, but our mental state never really wavered. We’re just trying to build on this and get ready for the Pac-12 tournament.”
HUSKIES GAME RECAP
PLAYER OF THE GAME — Hard to choose between C.J. Wilcox (23 points on 10-for-16 shooting) and Nigel Williams-Goss (14 points on 7-for-10 shooting, 10 assists), but the slight nod goes to the freshman. Without Williams-Goss in the first 10 or so minutes, the Huskies might have trailed by more than six points, and this might have been a different game. But Williams-Goss was steady throughout, and proved (again) that he should be seriously considered as a Pac-12 Freshman of the Year candidate.
IT WAS OVER WHEN — Washington led by 11 points at halftime, and when the Huskies immediately extended their lead to 16 in the opening minutes of the second half, it didn’t feel like the Beavers had enough in them to make a real run at a comeback.
STAT OF THE GAME — Washington outrebounded OSU by 20 (43-23), and UW’s starting lineup was ultra-efficient offensively, combining to shoot 32-for-53 (60.3 percent) from the field.
QUOTABLE — “I love Aaron Gordon and I know his team (Arizona) is right there near the top, but I don’t think there’s any freshman in our league that’s as valuable to (his) team as Nigel is.” – UW coach Lorenzo Romar
WHAT IT MEANS — The Huskies can, in fact, win on the road. Or at least they could Saturday. Romar has said he believed UW’s inability to play well away from home was, primarily, a mental issue. It’s too late now to make up for the seven consecutive road games they lost, but maybe this will serve as a harbinger of a strong finish to the season.
NEXT UP — Washington State at Washington, 7:30 p.m., Friday, Pac-12 Networks