Beach's Bits - Wilcox comes of age

The University of Washington's faltering season got a huge lift Thursday evening from an unexpected face - C.J. Wilcox. The Husky freshman stepped up in the biggest game of his career, delivering dagger after dagger against a reeling UCLA Bruins team looking to capitalize on the otherwise cold-shooting Huskies, as they were looking to snag a share of the league title.

And he did it all in the second half.

"That's one of the greatest performances in the history of the program," Washington Head Coach Lorenzo Romar would say after the game, one the Huskies won 70-63. "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."

Wilcox's 24 points are a career high, and he put it together in bold fashion. With Washington mired in a shooting slump for the second game in a row, the former Utah prep star made it look easy. In truth, it looked easy at times because the Bruins left him wide open for much of the second half. Wilcox made them pay for the disrespect.

"Usually when he hits one, my antennas go up," Romar said. "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."

Like the rest of his teammates, Wilcox couldn't hit water if he fell out of a boat in the first half. The team shot a miserable 21 percent from the field the first 20 minutes, as they forced contested shot after contested shot. Wilcox wasn't immune from the cold either, bricking all three field goal attempts he took.

The second half, however, was one of the great offensive performances ever seen at Hec Ed, especially by a freshman.

It's been a long time coming for the Huskies' sweet-shooting youngster. Wilcox raced out of the gate to start the season, with five double digit scoring games in his first eight contests as a Husky. He tallied 17 points in the Huskies' win over Virginia in the Maui Invitational, and tossed in 20 three games later against Long Beach State.

But that Virginia game would be his last performance as a key contributor for nearly two months, as a staph infection and concussion limited his availability over the next 14 games.

"If he's healthy all year, this type of performance would have happened earlier, because we've seen it too many times," Romar said.

Wilcox's return to relevance wasn't a rapid ascent. His recovery seemed slow. But it all culminated at home against California three weeks ago. Playing just 14 minutes, the lanky wing connected on 4-7 attempts from three en route to 14 points, as the Huskies snapped their three-game losing streak with a flourish. Wilcox scored in double digits the next four games, averaging nearly 15 points per contest, before a freak injury to starter Scott Suggs altered his season for good.

Replacing Suggs in the starting lineup, Wilcox staggered out of the gates during his first two games as a starter. He connected on just 2-14 from the floor in games against Seattle University and Washington State, looking overwhelmed at times in his new role.

With Washington's offense sputtering against UCLA and their season on the line, it felt like it was going to be more of the same. Instead, everything finally fell into place. Wilcox's potentially season-saving second-half outburst started quickly, as he canned a quick three on Washington's first possession out of the break. He followed it up with a smooth jumper moments later. While the rest of the team continued to build a wall brick by brick, Wilcox bombed away from outside, matching the Bruins point for point until he subbed out midway through the second half.

He returned to the lineup with the Huskies down four, and confidently drilled another three-pointer to cut the Bruins' lead to one. Wilcox then coolly answered a Jerime Anderson three-pointer moments later with one of his own. The Huskies took the lead for good minutes later behind an Isaiah Thomas tip, and Wilcox struck again with a 19-foot and-one that gave the Huskies a 59-53 lead.

On a night when the rest of his team shot just 25 percent from the floor, Wilcox made every shot count. He put the Huskies on his narrow shoulders and carried them to victory. For a team that needed at least one more win to get to the NCAA tournament, Wilcox deserves the credit for that, too.

They would have lost without him.


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