By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
SEATTLE — C.J. Wilcox scored a career-high 28 points the last time the University of Washington men’s basketball team played a home game, but the junior sharpshooter couldn’t get any help.
On Wednesday night, when the Huskies were playing a rare late game at Hec Edmundson Pavilion, Wilcox was at it again but got plenty of assistance from his teammates as UW pulled away from St. Louis University for a 66-61 win.
Wilcox scored 27 points on a remarkably efficient 11-of-13 shooting Wednesday, but the combined 30 points from teammates Aziz N’Diaye and Abdul Gaddy, who combined to spark the UW offense early in the second half, helped the Huskies pull away from the pesky Billikens (4-3).
“We knew we needed this win,” said Gaddy, who struggled in the second half of Saturday’s loss to Colorado State. “We were in the locker room (after the Colorado State loss), we were very upset; we were mad. We were at practice playing chippy. We were so upset. But it happens, so now we’ll try to take it one game at a time.”
That grit carried over to Wednesday’s win, which saw UW out-rebound St. Louis 32-30 after getting pounded on the boards by the Billikens last season.
The Huskies (3-3) also snapped a two-game home losing streak while knocking off a St. Louis team that was ranked 22nd in the national RPI heading into Wednesday’s game.
While UW still has a long way to go to become a legitimate NCAA tournament at-large candidate, the Huskies can’t fault their leading scorer. Wilcox has been everything and more for UW this season, averaging 19.5 points per game and 24.3 over the past three games.
“I just kind of take it upon myself to be aggressive, especially with Scott out,” Wilcox said, referring to injured teammate Scott Suggs. “Tonight was just one of those nights when I was on.”
Wilcox made 4 of 5 shots from 3-point range despite playing with a bruised talibone, and a halftime adjustment to UW’s offense that used wider screens helped open things up for him and others. The Huskies trailed most of the first half and were fortunate just to go into halftime tied at 29 after Gaddy hit a 3-pointer in the final two seconds.
Gaddy continued to have a hot hand early in the second half, scoring six quick points on the way to a 39-33 lead for the Huskies. UW also got some rare offense from N’Diaye, who scored 12 of his season-high-matching 14 points after halftime and brought the Hec Ed fans to their feet with a baseline dunk with 5:56 remaining. That came during a 12-0 run that extended the Huskies’ lead to 61-48 and essentially put St. Louis away.
UW led by 12 points with 4 ½ minutes remaining but went the rest of the way without a field goal, allowing St. Louis to pull within four points, at 65-61, with 26.7 seconds left. But redshirt freshman Andrew Andrews, making his first career start, hit a free throw before teammate Desmond Simmons got a key offensive rebound in the closing seconds to clinch the win.
The Huskies survived the Billikens’ 6-of-13 shooting from 3-point range in the second half, and the late start appeared to wear on St. Louis in the end. The game tipped off just after 9 p.m. local time, and the Billikens were adjusting to a two-hour change in time zones.
But St. Louis coach Jim Crews said he did not “really think that was a factor” in the loss.
“That’s what college basketball is now,” he said before his team left the UW campus just before midnight, with a 3 a.m. wakeup call scheduled before their flight back to the Midwest. “Sometimes you play at 11 in the morning, sometimes 11 at night. (The Huskies) had to play late also.”
UW started slow and ran out of offense in the closing minutes, but mostly it was a solid return to form for the Huskies. The halftime adjustment to the high-post offense, along with a continued spark from its leading scorer, has UW back on course as the Huskies wait for injured players like Suggs and Shawn Kemp Jr. to return sometime next month.
“When we get all our guys back,” coach Lorenzo Romar said, “we don’t want (Wilcox) to change the way he’s playing.”