It only took him a half to warm up, but once C.J. Wilcox got it going from the outside, he was virtually unstoppable.
The Washington Huskies rode the hot hand of Wilcox in the second half to defeat the UCLA Bruins 70-63 Thursday night at Alaska Airlines Arena at Hec Edmundson Pavilion.
With the win, the Huskies move to 20-9 on the season and 11-6 in the Pacific-10 Conference and now stand only one game behind the Bruins for second place in the conference with one game left to play.
Wilcox, who was scoreless in the first half, stole the show after halftime and put up 24 second-half points. Wilcox's biggest play came when he hit a fade-away perimeter jumper as he was fouled and as the shot clock expired to put the Huskies up six points with just over 2 minutes left in the game.
"It's good to see your shot go down," said Wilcox, a redshirt freshman guard from Pleasant Grove, Utah. "The confidence factor. Coaches have been harping on me to keep shooting. Luckily they have fallen."
Wilcox was not the only Husky to struggle from the field in the first half, as the team shot only 21 percent from the field.
Isaiah Thomas, the Huskies' leading scorer, also did not score in the first half, going 0-for-6 from the field. But in the second half, Wilcox led the way for the Huskies, going 7-for-8, including 4-for-5 from 3-point range.
"I've been a part of a team that won a national championship, and I've never seen a freshman do what he (Wilcox) did in the second half," Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar said. "You rarely see a freshman take a team and put them on his back like he did in the second half."
While Wilcox carried the load for the team offensively, the Huskies were able to keep the Bruins in check largely due to the defensive effort of seniors Venoy Overton and Justin Holiday. Overton was able to harass the Bruins' guards as they brought the ball up the floor, while Holiday defended the ultra-talented Tyler Honeycutt and held him to only two points on the night.
"I think the main key for us winning this game was how we defended," said Holiday. "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."
UCLA was able to hang around late in the game, relying on a strong second half performance by guard Jerime Anderson who had 16 points after halftime, including four 3-pointers. Also, Kentwood High School product Joshua Smith dominated on the glass for the Bruins. Smith finished with 12 points and 16 rebounds to help keep the game close down the stretch.
"I don't know how many guys around are like Josh," Romar said. "He catches everything, he does a great job of moving you without running over you. If he has the slightest angle, he abuses the angle. It's hard to box him out."
The Huskies will enter Saturday's game against USC with a chance to grab the second seed in the Pac-10 heading into the conference tournament next week. With a UCLA loss to Washington State, and a home win over USC, the Huskies will hold the tie-breaker over the Bruins as the second-place team in the Pac-10.
"This win is good for us to have. It's what we needed but it didn't do much for us," Holiday said. "We have to keep winning. We can't get (overly) satisfied with this win."