Wilcox launches UW to victory

SEATTLE - It may not have been a deal-breaker when it came to their post-season hopes, but C.J. Wilcox played like it anyway. Wilcox scored a career-high 24 points - all in the second half - as the Washington Huskies defeated UCLA 70-63 Thursday to sweep the season series over the Bruins. It also gave UW 20 wins, and put them one crucial step closer toward NCAA Tournament qualification.

With Arizona defeating Oregon State Thursday, the Wildcats have clinched the Pac-10 regular season title, as well as the No. 1 seed for next week's Pac-10 Tournament, to be held at the Staples Center. But Washington has a chance for second place outright with a UCLA loss at Washington State Saturday.

"I think Washington is a very good team that could really do some damage in the NCAA tournament," UCLA Head Coach Ben Howland said after the game.

The Huskies (20-9, 11-6) were able to withstand another dreary offensive performance early by staying tough on the defensive end. Despite shooting only 21 percent from the field the first 20 minutes, the Huskies never let UCLA (21-9, 12-5) get out by more than four points - even though they led by one at half, 25-24 - which made it 41 total points for the Huskies in their last two first halves. For some reason the lid has been on tighter than usual, but Washington persevered by forcing the Bruins into 18 total turnovers, and getting some incredibly clutch shooting by Wilcox when everyone else seemed to be in a deep freeze.

"We didn't shoot the ball very well, same as last game," UW Head Coach Lorenzo Romar said. "But tonight in the second half, we maintained our defensive focus, and our overall focus and intensity. We were able to win a game despite not putting the ball in the basket the way we know that we can."

Even though Wilcox, a freshman from Pleasant Grove, Utah, started for the Huskies, he didn't really stamp his presence on the game until just seconds after intermission, where he buried the first of four three-pointers. He stepped inside the arc for another made jumper on Washington's next possession, and UCLA called timeout. Wilcox made another three just moments later, and he was off and running. He finished the game shooting 7-10 from the field, including 4-7 from three, and 6-6 from the free throw line.

"We just felt like our backs were against the wall," Wilcox said after the game.  "We had to come out here, and get it rolling because we can't lose.  We want to win out, and that's what we're trying to do."

He jump-started the Huskies, as they scored 46 second-half points, shooting nearly 54 percent from the field. "I've been a part of a team that won a National Championship, and I've never seen a freshman do what he did tonight in the second half," Washington Head Coach Lorenzo Romar said. "Unless it's one of those heralded freshman that are a one-and-done guy, you rarely see a freshman put a team on his back like he did tonight.

"That's one of the greatest performances in the history of the program. I haven't looked at the media guide, but how many players have scored 24 points in a half in a meaningful game? I don't think it would be a lot."

The Bruins had their own three-point specialist Thursday in Jerime Anderson. He led the Bruins with 16 points, 12 coming from behind the arc. He was one of four UCLA players in double-figures; Malcolm Lee had 13, Josh Smith 12, and Reeves Nelson 10. Smith was an absolute beast inside for the Bruins, coming up with 16 rebounds, including eight on the offensive end. They outscored UW in the paint 34-24.

Nelson was called for a technical foul at the 10:45 mark of the second half for banging his hand on the floor in disgust after not having a foul called. Wilcox buried the resulting two free throws to put Washington on top 42-38.

It was Smith, a native of Kent, that helped to catalyze a UCLA second-half run by getting points inside off of rebounds, And after an Anderson three with 6:48 left, it gave the Bruins a 4-point lead, 50-46. It appeared the away team was poised for a final push.

But Wilcox kept shooting and scoring, and the Bruins trailed off. He hit two big three-pointers, and he made a running jumper from just inside the arc that was compounded by a foul from Anderson, causing the sellout crowd at Alaska Airlines Arena to lose it.

"Usually when he hits one, my antennas go up," Romar said of Wilcox. "Our guys understand that when he hits one or two, we need to find him. He has an unbelievable knack for finding the open area at times."

At the same time, UCLA had used all their timeouts, which meant Howland couldn't stop the bleeding at a crucial point in the game. They had called their last one with 12:57 still left on the clock. "Not having any timeouts really hurt our ability to regain our composure," he said.

Wilcox's unconventional three-point play gave UW a 59-53 lead with 2:38 left in the game. It was part of a 14-0 run by the Huskies that eventually put them ahead for good, 63-53. The Bruins fouled, but Washington was able to maintain their cool to eventually win by seven.

Washington had only one other player score 10 or more points - Venoy Overton - yet were able to subsist on Wilcox's points when they couldn't buy a bucket inside. Matthew Bryan-Amaning and Aziz N'diaye combined to go 5-18 from inside five feet, one of the main reasons the Huskies were so dismal early on.

But Romar was quick to point out Bryan-Amaning's 13 rebounds, as well as Justin Holiday's lock-down defense of UCLA's Tyler Honeycutt, the defensive tenacity of Venoy Overton, and the 18 veteran minutes of Scott Suggs, who was playing for the first time since injuring his knee early at Arizona State. He called the win a 'true team effort'.

"I think the main key for us winning this game was how we defended, though," Holiday said.  "It was good that we had C.J. step up and get us points because that was our problem, but it all started on the defensive end.  If we didn't defend we would have lost this game, similar to what happened against Washington State."


Statistics:
Points: Wilcox 24, Overton 10, Thomas 9, Bryan-Amaning 7, N'Diaye 6, Holiday 5, Gant 5, Suggs 4
Rebounds: Bryan-Amaning 13, N'Diaye 8, Holiday 6, Thomas 4, TEAM 4, Gant 2, Overton 1, Suggs 1, Wilcox 1
Assists: Holiday 5, Thomas 3, Suggs 3, Bryan-Amaning 1, Wilcox 1
Steals: Thomas 2, Suggs 2, Bryan-Amaning 1
Blocks: Wilcox 2, Holiday 1, Suggs 1, Gant 1


(Video courtesy of Kyle McCormick and the UW Athletic Department)




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