March 4, 2011

Huskies' first-half troubles continue

The first half of the Washington Huskies game looked eerily similar to the beginning of their loss to Washington State on Sunday.

"The first half was exactly like Sunday, except we took a little better care of the basketball," Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said.

UCLA led the Huskies by just one point at the midway point, but the usually high-scoring Huskies scored just 24 points in the half.

Just like Sunday, the Huskies were able to keep the game close thanks to their defensive pressure. The Huskies forced eight turnovers in the first half and limited UCLA to just 25 points, their third lowest halftime total of the season.

"I think the main key for us winning this game was how we defended," said senior Justin Holiday, who finished the game with six rebounds and a team-high five assists.

The difference between Sunday's game and Thursday night was that Washington didn't let off the defensive pressure during the second half.

"In the second half, we maintained our defensive focus and our overall focus and intensity," said Romar, who wouldn't even talk about the big game by C.J. Wilcox until he raved about the rest of the team's performance.

Smith impressive in homecoming

Former Kentwood High School star Joshua Smith came back to his home state in an effort to help UCLA move one game closer to a conference championship.

Smith dominated the paint against the Huskies, finishing with 12 points and 16 rebounds, eight of which came on offense.

"I thought Josh played one of his best games," UCLA coach Ben Howland said. "I was really proud of him for playing so well."

The Huskies used the 7-foot Aziz N'Diaye to defend Smith, but N'Diaye had no chance against the much larger Smith.

"I don't know how many guys around are like Josh," Romar said. "If he has the slightest angle he abuses it. He's tough to box out. He's a tough cover."

Unfortunately for Smith and the Bruins, the Huskies turned the game into a 3-point shooting contest, which limited his over impact on the game.

C.J. steals the show

In a game that was supposed to be about Joshua Smith against Washington's big men, Huskies guard C.J. Wilcox took over the game in the second half.

"I don't think I've ever been a part of a freshman coming in and playing like Wilcox did in the second half," Romar said.

Wilcox missed two wide open 3-point shots to start the game, and had zero points at halftime. In the second half he made just about every shot he took, and finished with 24 points.

"Yeah it's good to see your shot go down," Wilcox said. "Coaches have been harping on me to keep shooting. Luckily they have fallen."

Luck didn't appear to be the factor for Wilcox. In the second half, Wilcox was 4-for-5 on 3-pointers, 3-for-3 from inside, and 6-for-6 from the free throw line.

"You rarely see a freshman take a team and put them on his back like he did in the second half," said Romar.

Wilcox performance was even more important because Washington's usual top scorers, Matthew Bryan-Amaning and Isaiah Thomas combined for just 16 points on the night.

March Madness in Huskies' future?

Washington has become one of the many teams considered to be on the cusp of making the NCAA tournament later in the month. With the win over UCLA, the Huskies improved their odds, but they still may have some work to do.

"If this leads us to continue to win, it will be one you look back on as a big win," Romar said.

Washington is in a slightly better position than it was last year, but that doesn't mean the Huskies feel safe.

"We just felt like our backs were against the wall," Wilcox said. "We had to come out here and get it rolling because we can't lose."

The Huskies know they are on the bubble right now and have used the speculation to fuel their efforts.

A win over USC Saturday in their regular season would take some pressure off of the team for the conference tournament, but when it comes to the NCAA selection committee, the Huskies would rather be safe than sorry.

"We have to go out and win the Pac-10 tournament," Justin Holiday said last week. "Even if we don't, I think we should go out and do it anyway just to be sure."


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