Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
SEATTLE — Terrence Ross came out firing. C.J. Wilcox came in sizzling.
Heating up was not a problem for the University of Washington men’s basketball team on Thursday night.
In a game they had to have to keep pace in the hotly-contested Pacific-12 Conference, the Huskies made an early statement and ended up kicking Arizona State while the Sun Devils were down. UW’s 77-69 win over ASU, combined with Cal’s win over Oregon, left the Huskies tied for first place atop the Pac-12 standings.
“We want to stay in first place,” said UW junior Abdul Gaddy, who had a team-high eight assists Thursday. “We can control our own destiny, but we have five games left. We just have to come out and take it to these teams.”
The Huskies (18-8 overall, 11-3 in the Pac-12) certainly looked like a conference title contender for most of Thursday night. While UW played down to its competition for stretches — the most obvious came when the two teams traded six turnovers during a span of 62 seconds late in the first half — it never really let the struggling Sun Devils (8-18, 4-10) entertain thoughts of an upset.
Ross, whose signature has been to come out feeling out opponents before landing second-half knockouts, was aggressive from the start while scoring five points on UW’s first three possessions. With a little help from big man Aziz N’Diaye, he led the Huskies out to a quick, 11-6 lead.
Wilcox came off the bench to score four points in a span of 14 seconds, then senior Darnell Gant _ in the final homestand of his UW career — provided some late fireworks to save the Huskies from a two-and-a-half-minute swoon late in the half.
By halftime, the Huskies were up 44-26, thanks to nine points apiece from Wilcox and Gant off the bench and another seven from Ross.
UW shot a blistering 61 percent from the field in the first half, making 4 of 9 attempts from 3-point range.
The Huskies’ biggest scare of the first half came with 6 ½ minutes remaining, when N’Diaye went down hard and had to be helped off the court while favoring his right knee. But the big man returned to the floor a few minutes later to a round of applause from the fans at Hec Edmundson Pavilion.
Things were going so well for the Huskies on Thursday night that even N’Diaye was hitting his free throws. He made a pair early in the second half to put UW up 54-30, marking a rare perfect trip to the free-throw line for the big man with the sub-40 free-throw percentage.
The Sun Devils made a brief push midway through the second half, using runs of 9-0 and 6-0 to get the Huskies’ lead all the way down to 11 points. UW was plagued by turnovers during the span but eventually shook out of it to hold off ASU’s minor threat, thanks in large part to 11 total points from Ross and Wilcox in a span of less than four minutes.
The Huskies were leading comfortably by 14 points when Romar cleared the bench, with walk-ons Brendan Sherrer and Alex Wegner on the floor as ASU closed out with a pair of 3-pointers to get the deficit under 10 points for the first time in the second half.
If there was one major positive the Huskies could take away from the performance, it was the return of Wilcox’s shooting stroke. The 6-foot-5 sophomore has been hobbled by a stress fracture in his upper leg, leaving him on the sidelines for practices, and he looked as healthy as ever Thursday night.
“I felt good,” said Wilcox, who scored 14 points on 6-of-11 shooting. “(The leg) wasn’t really bothering me.”
Ross led all scorers with 18 points, hitting 4 of 8 shots from 3-point range. Tony Wroten Jr. added 13 points, while N’Diaye had 12. Gant didn’t score after halftime, finishing with nine points.
Perhaps the biggest ovation of the night came when the scoreboard video screen showed former Husky and Seattle SuperSonic Detlef Schrempf sitting behind one of the baskets. The timing was appropriate, seeing as how the city earlier in the day unveiled its plan for a new downtown arena that could house teams from both the NBA and NHL.
Fans in green Sonics gear were scattered throughout the arena, and afterward Gaddy said it was good to know that the NBA might be back in town.
“It’s made us be like the NBA team here,” the Tacoma native said of not having the Sonics around in recent years. “We take on that burden. If we play bad, we don’t really give the city anything to look forward to, and we take that on.
“I think it’s great. The city deserves it, and I think they’ll be supported well.”
Until then, the Huskies are this city’s basketball team. And they still have a few more hurdles on the way to their goal.
That begins Saturday with a home game against Arizona.
“We’ve formed a little rivalry with them,” Gant said. “Whenever we play them, the intensity is amped. We have to be ready.”