Washington has won nine of 11, UCLA 10 of 14 heading into Thursday’s game at Hec Ed, where Romar needs all available hands.
“If he can do it like he did at Arizona, he’ll play,” said coach Lorenzo Romar, who admitted that Wilcox’s 26 minutes in the 69-67, season-turning win over the Wildcats “was a few more than he should have played.”
He was needed. The shorthanded Huskies were running out of gas and fouls late. Wilcox’s two free throws with 5.3 seconds left were the winning margin. But Wilcox is sore and Romar is holding him out of practice this week.
Romar in 2005 had a similar situation with Brandon Roy, who was coming back from rehab for knee problems that would eventually force his early retirement at 27 from the NBA this winter after just five seasons. Romar held Roy out of practice to get as much as he could from him during games.
“If it goes on awhile, C.J. won’t be as sharp as if he practiced,” Romar said.
Wilcox missed three games with a stress fracture in his femur, but received medical clearance to play at Arizona State Thursday, where he put in 10 minutes. In both games, Wilcox, tied for Pac-12 lead in free-throw shooting (89.4 percent), was clutch at the line late. His mere presence on the floor also forces defenses to change.
“Defenses have to guard him, so it opens up the floor for everybody else,” Romar said. “He also gives rest to other guys and he’s just a really good basketball player.”
Even though Washington (7-2, 14-7) is the Pac-12’s hottest team with wins in nine of its past 11 games, UCLA (5-4, 12-9) has run off wins in 10 of its past 14, so a contribution from Wilcox is more than a trifle for an eight-man rotation.
Even though the Bruins’ season hasn’t gone as expected — coach Ben Howland on Dec. 21 kicked off the team for insubordination Reeves Nelson, a junior forward who was the leading scorer and rebounder last year; he’s now playing pro ball in Lithuania — the Huskies can’t afford to lighten up for the 6 p.m. game on ESPN.
“The biggest thing is not to get bored with success,” he said. “Just because you had success doesn’t mean you experiment — try to get steals when you should stay in front of your man . . . you forget what you did to get there.”