Halfway through Washington's game with UCLA on Thursday, the Huskies' top-three scoring leaders had combined for nine points.
In the locker room, coach Lorenzo Romar pointed out the obvious: Someone had to step up.
C.J. Wilcox did.
The redshirt freshman scored a career-high 24 points – all in the second half – in leading Washington to a 70-63 win over the Bruins before a sellout crowd of 10,000 at Hec Edmundson Pavilion.
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But after the game, Wilcox’s scoring was not the first thing Romar wanted to talk about.
“I’ll get to C.J. in a second,” Romar began. “We didn’t shoot the ball very well ... but tonight in the second half we maintained our defensive focus and our overall focus and intensity and we were able to win a game in spite of not being able to put the ball in the basket the way we usually can.”
That message delivered, Romar turned his praise to Wilcox.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been a part of a freshman coming in and playing like C.J. Wilcox did in the second half,” Romar said. “... Unless he comes in and he’s one of these heralded All-American guys that’s one and done, you rarely see a freshman put a team on his back like he did in the second half.”
Wilcox was just another offensively bumbling Husky in the early going, contributing two misses to the team’s 7-for-33 first-half shooting.
“I was 0-for-2, but you know, the coaches kept harping on me to take open shots,” Wilcox said. “Luckily, they started falling.”
That they did.
Over the next 20 minutes, Wilcox made seven of eight shots, including four of five 3-pointers. He also sank all six free throws, rarely touching iron.
“It was good to see the ball go in the rim,” he said. “After you’re missing, your confidence kind of drops. But as soon as you see the ball go in you kind of feel like you can make 10 in a row. That’s how it was.”
Wilcox allowed UW to stay with and finally pass the Bruins, who led as late as the final five minutes.
UW leading scorer Isaiah Thomas didn’t score until the final four minutes. Second-leading scorer, Matthew Bryan-Amaning, managed seven points, and No. 3 scorer, Justin Holiday, had five.
However, Thomas rallied for nine points down the stretch, and Romar was quick to point out that the other players contributed in other ways.
“Justin Holiday is 1-for-8, but you look at the other side: (UCLA’s) Tyler Honeycutt is 0-for-6,” Romar said. “Justin Holiday gets six rebounds and passes for five assists, so he still had an impact on that game in terms of winning. Matthew Bryan-Amaning wasn’t able to convert a lot of times, but he pulled down 13 rebounds and while he was in there battled big Josh Smith, which isn’t easy at all. Venoy Overton was his old self and really, really did a good job of helping us win this game.”
Romar also credited the quiet contributions of Scott Suggs, who returned after missing three games with a knee injury.
Jerime Anderson matched Wilcox trey-for-trey for a portion of the second half and led the Bruins with 16 points. Josh Smith of Kent had a game-high 16 rebounds to go with 12 points.
“Our defense played was really good tonight, with the exception of Wilcox,” UCLA coach Ben Howland said. “... I liked our heart, our character, and the way we played tonight. I think Washington is a very good team that could really do some damage in the NCAA tournament.”
The win moves UW to 20-9 on the season and 11-6 in the Pacific-10 Conference. UCLA falls to 21-9 and 12-5, one game behind Arizona with one game remaining.
The win completed Washington’s third-ever sweep of UCLA, but it was the Huskies’ seventh straight defeat of the Bruins at Hec Ed.
Washington concludes its regular season Saturday night when Southern California visits at 7:30.
Don Ruiz, 253-597-8808 firstname.lastname@example.org twitter/donruiztnt blog.thenewstribune.com/uwsports