BY Bob Sherwin 06:42PM 02/25/2011

Huskies putting trust in C.J. Wilcox

Strong late-season play earns redshirt freshman starting role.

Washington shooting guard C.J. Wilcox has earned his second season start Sunday against Washington State / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

Opportunity is often a byproduct of limited options, when just about everything else has been tried.

Washington Husky guard C.J. Wilcox has spent the season of waiting patiently while the options ahead of him have been inexorably depleted. Finally, this is his time.

“It’s money time,” Washington forward Darnell Gant said. “Good athletes step up in pressure situations. C.J is taking advantage of the situation. He’s doing a real good job.”

Wilcox will be making his second start of the season Sunday in one of the biggest games as the Huskies (19-8, 10-5 in the Pac-10) host Washington State (17-10, 7-8) at Hec Ed. Second place is within range and even first place is now possible after first-place Arizona’s loss to USC Thursday.

UW Coach Lorenzo Romar is putting his trust in the redshirt freshman.

“They trust all of us, me, Terrence (Ross), Scott (Suggs) to play big roles, especially with Abdul Gaddy going down,” Wilcox said. “We all have to step up.”

The season-ending knee injury to starting point guard Gaddy on Jan. 4 opened up opportunities for the others. Senior Venoy Overton immediately stepped into Gaddy’s starting spot but that lasted just three games. Romar preferred having Overton come off the bench so he went with senior Suggs as the starter.

In the meantime, as Wilcox appeared poised to enlarge his role and even challenge for the starting spot, he developed an unusual hip infection about the time Gaddy went down. He missed a couple games with it then had trouble even regaining his previous spot in the rotation.

Through the first 10 games of the conference play, Wilcox averaged just 9.0 minutes and 2.4 points. He shot 28.1 percent from the floor and 19 percent from three-point range.

This is a guy whom Romar called “a phenomenal shooter” at the beginning of the season. That wasn’t happening.

Then two weeks ago, in a 109-77 rout of California, Romar had the chance to give extended playing time to his bench and Wilcox took advantage. He scored 14 points in 13 minutes, hitting 4-of-7 from 3-point range.

That left a mark. He proved that both his hip and his shot were healthy again. He moved back up the rotation and into prominence in the Husky scheme.

Over the past four conference games, Wilcox is scoring 14.8 points while averaging 19 minutes. He’s shooting 54.2 percent from the floor, including 45.2 percent from behind the arc.

“That’s a decent enough sample at this time of year in conference play to see that he’s someone who is making his presence felt on the offensive end,” Romar said.

After Suggs was injured three minutes into last Thursday’s game against Arizona State, Wilcox came off the bench and essentially saved the team. He propped up the sluggish Huskies in the first half, helping to bring them back from a 15-7 deficit to a 43-33 lead by halftime. He played a career-high 25 minutes, scored 16 points with eight rebounds and two blocked shots as the Huskies won, 79-62.

“Against Arizona State, he scored 16 but had eight rebounds and made good defensive plays,” Romar said. “You always like someone doing more. He’s showing his versatility.”

With Suggs out for the Arizona game, Romar went with an experienced hand against first-place Wildcats, starting Overton. But Wilcox played 22 minutes, scoring 19 points on 7-of-11 from the floor.

Romar finally believed Wilcox was the best option to start last Tuesday against Seattle University, moving Overton back to his more comfortable sixth-man role.

He didn’t exactly light it up in his first start against the Redhawks, missing seven of eight shots to finish with just three points in 24 minutes.

“The thing that impressed me about C.J, is even in a game in which he’s 1 of 8, and 1 of 6 from the three, he still pulls down six rebounds and steals two balls,” Romar said. “He’s doing more than just shooting.”

Romar is staying with Wilcox as his starter Sunday against Washington State. The reason he likes Wilcox is because he’s a big guard, 6-foot-5.

“He gives us the same as Scott or Terrence Ross does, it’s a bigger guy and that forces the other team to make some decisions right off the bat,” Romar said. “Who are they going to defend?”

“If you are guarding C.J., you are not going to leave him. Or Scott Suggs. You’re not going to leave those guys. It just opens it up a little more.”

The way Wilcox can shoot, he’s got to be respected by the defense. That limits the opponent’s inclination to play help defense. His size also requires a bigger player to guard him, and that generally gives Isaiah Thomas a better defensive matchup.

“He gives us someone who can stretch the defense,” Gant said. “I talk to him before every game and tell him ‘be cool, be level-headed. This is something you’ve been doing all your life.’ ”

Wilcox was still dealing with his hip issues the last time the Huskies played the Cougars and missed that game. He’s a new wrinkle WSU has to deal with.

It’s been an eventful climb for Wilcox, in his first competitive college season. But he has earned the trust of his coaches and his teammates at the most critical portion of the season.

“It’s different than what I expected this late in the season,” Wilcox said, “but things have turned around for me and I’m real excited.”


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