Washington faces Pac-12’s top team Thursday without their top bench scorer, but Romar made the revisions work well enough Sunday to beat Washington State.
Wilcox sat out Sunday’s 75-65 win over Washington State and will miss the games against the Bears (15-4, 5-1) at 5:30 p.m. Thursday and 3 p.m. Saturday against Stanford (15-3, 5-1). The Bay Area teams are tied for the league lead, a half-game ahead of Washington (11-6, 4-1).
Wilcox’s is the Huskies’ second-leading scorer (15.5 ppg) and leads the Pac-12 in free throw shooting (90 percent) and 3-point shots per game (2.8). But the 6-5 sophomore was coming off the bench lately, supplanted by dynamic freshman Tony Wroten.
The injury has been an increasing nuisance, causing coach Lorenzo Romar to sometimes excuse him from practice, but didn’t stop him from dropping 25 points on Seattle U Jan. 10.
“That was very impressive,” Romar said of Wilcox’s ability to play through the pain. The previous game at Utah, however, in front of many family of friends from his nearby hometown of Pleasant Grove, he missed 11 of 13 shots in 29 minutes.
Already lost to injury for the season was another premier shooter, Scott Suggs. Romar compensated Sunday with greater use of a zone defense to save the legs of his starters, and gave 10 minutes of playing time to little-used freshman guard Hikeem Stewart of Rainier Beach High.
It helped that Terrence Ross snapped the Huskies out of their offensive doldrums Sunday with 26 of his 30 points in the second half, sending Washington to its sixth win in seven games.
The breakthrough against a good Cougars team gave hope to Huskies fans that progress in mashing together so many new, young players is sustainable.
Washington had its way with Cal last year, winning both regular-season games as well as one in the Pac-10 tourney. But coach Mike Montgomery, in his fourth season at Berkeley, has Cal vastly improved, leading the Pac-12 in scoring margin (12.4), regular field goal shooting (48.7) and threes (41.5 percent).
They are led by senior guard Jorge Gutierrez, the Bears’ second-leading scorer (14.3) and No. 2 assist man (4.3), who has drawn Romar’s admiration.
“He’s one of the greatest warriors — not players — the conference has ever seen,” he said. “He plays so hard, and is so competitive, but you never see his hightlights on SportsCenter.”