SEATTLE — A first-half hangover followed Washington’s pre-game celebration, the Huskies struggling to separate from USC early in Saturday’s senior-day game.
They were sloppy and out of rhythm – passive offensively, out of sorts on defense, trailing by two points at halftime against a team that has won two Pac-12 games this season.
But C.J. Wilcox, the fifth-year senior, the guy who received the loudest cheers during the pregame festivities, keyed an early second-half run that provided enough cushion for the Huskies to coast to an 82-75 victory over the Trojans in their regular-season finale.
And if it seemed like Wilcox, who led all scorers with 24 points on 6-for-16 shooting, was trying to be more aggressive, it’s because he was.
Here’s the senior guard’s long-winded reasoning: “Last game here. Trying to go out with a bang.”
Fair enough. Wilcox scored seven of his points during UW’s 15-0 run to begin the second half, and was an integral part of the Huskies’ defensive revival, too. He finished with eight rebounds, three steals and two blocked shots, using his long arms to disrupt the Trojans’ offensive flow.
So UW’s second-leading scorer in program history left Hec Edmundson Pavilion as a winner, with his family in attendance. So, too, did senior Perris Blackwell, who added eight points and eight rebounds.
That means something, for sure, but this victory meant little else. The Huskies (17-14, 9-9 in Pac-12) were locked into the No. 8 vs. No. 9 game in next week’s Pac-12 tournament before Saturday’s game was played, and had no influence on who their opponent will be, either (it’s Utah).
But it was a feel-good momentum coach Lorenzo Romar was after, and for the most part, he got it.
“We didn’t want to have two losses going into the tournament,” said sophomore guard Andrew Andrews, who scored 19 points, “so we were all fired up to play.”
“We won the game, and there were times we played right – I didn’t think we played wrong today,” Romar said. “… We had a lot of opportunities, I thought, in transition we didn’t capitalize on, whether we missed a shot or turned the ball over or didn’t get that done. But by and large, I still think another win helps us going into the tournament. Mentally.”
The way they played in the first half would not have helped. During those 20 minutes, the Huskies shot 32.4 percent from the field, and might have trailed by more than just 37-35 had USC not committed nine turnovers.
“Their zone caused us some problems trying to get it into Perris, but they did a really good job guarding him, so we were just kind of standing on the outside and couldn’t get any action in the middle,” Wilcox said. “In the second half, we figured it out.”
They figured out how to defend, too. USC didn’t score until 4:31 had passed in the second half, and by then, the Huskies led 50-39, that sequence punctuated by a technical foul against USC coach Andy Enfield.
Washington led by as many as 17.
Romar credited the Huskies’ activity in USC’s passing lanes, something UW hasn’t emphasized as much this season while focusing on preventing dribble penetration. But it showed up Saturday.
“The first five, six minutes we only ran half-court offense one time, because we were getting deflections and steals and forcing them to take shots maybe they didn’t want to take,” Romar said.
USC (11-20, 2-16) cut UW’s lead to 72-67 after Byron Wesley’s basket with 4:29 to play. But Nigel Williams-Goss countered with a 3-pointer, and the Trojans didn’t get closer than five points after that.
The victory assures Washington of its sixth consecutive season with a winning record, its 10th winning season in the past 11 years, and its 11th consecutive season with a record of .500 or better (the Huskies finished 16-16 in 2007-08, though they lost two games to USC that the Trojans later vacated due to NCAA violations).
But the Huskies need to win four games in four days in Las Vegas next week to avoid a third consecutive season without an NCAA tournament appearance. That would be the longest drought in Romar’s 12-year tenure at UW.
“We had some trials and some adversity we had to get through,” Wilcox said. “But our guys are confident we can go get four in a row.”
HUSKIES GAME RECAP
PLAYER OF THE GAME — In his final home game at Washington, senior C.J. Wilcox led all scorers with 24 points on 6-for-16 shooting. He was 9-for-9 at the free-throw line, scored seven points during UW’s 15-0 run to open the second half, and added eight rebounds, three steals and two blocked shots in 33 minutes.
IT WAS OVER WHEN — After a sluggish first half, the Huskies scored the first 15 points of the second half en route to a 17-point lead that USC couldn’t overcome.
STAT OF THE GAME — The Huskies used USC’s 14 turnovers to fuel their transition opportunities, and scored 15 points off fast breaks. The Trojans scored just six.
QUOTABLE — “C.J. just kind of takes it all in, comes and goes, moves on about his business. He came out with a really aggressive mindset. You could just see that right away. You look at the fact he had three steals and eight rebounds, it just shows he was aggressive. He was determined today.” – UW coach Lorenzo Romar
WHAT IT MEANS — A home victory over the second-worst team in the Pac-12 with no postseason implications? That doesn’t mean a whole lot. But Romar insists they needed to use this game to gather some momentum heading into next week’s Pac-12 tournament, and due to the fact that they won, maybe they did that. Still, there’s not much to read into a win over this USC team.
NEXT UP — Washington vs. Utah, noon Wednesday in Las Vegas, Pac-12 Networks