Shot after shot, dagger after dagger, C.J. Wilcox was getting harder to miss.
With every subsequent game-saving basket, the Washington Huskies guard’s star grew brighter and brighter, all the eyes of Hec Pavilion tracking him down the court.
All but UCLA’s, it seems.
There he was, tucked into the left corner for a wide-open 3-pointer, shrinking the late UCLA lead to one.
There he was at the top of the key less than three minutes later for a shot-clock-beating three-point play, the deepest cut in a 14-0 Washington run.
Wilcox was here, there, everywhere, pouring in 24 second-half points as a late surge gave the Huskies the 70-63 win at Hec Pavilion.
“We had a great opportunity to win on the road in a very tough environment,” UCLA head coach Ben Howland said. “Our defense was really good tonight, especially in the first half, with the exception of Wilcox. He had 24 points in the second half. We had a one-point lead with the ball going in, we missed a decent shot and he came down and got them going in a hurry and never stopped.”
UCLA led 53-49 with 5:55 left following a 3-pointer by Jerime Anderson, who led the team with 16 points. The Bruins were soaring, a 13-5 run lifting the team ahead of the balanced Huskies.
And then the bleeding started.
And it poured and poured and poured, UCLA needing either a timeout or a tourniquet. They had neither. Howland used all of his timeouts by the 12-minute mark in the second half, trying to stop earlier runs. And there wasn’t a bandage in Seattle big enough to stop Wilcox.
Certainly not one readily available, not with UCLA junior guard Malcolm Lee nursing cramps for a big stretch in the second quarter.
Led by Wilcox, who hit seven-of-10 shots, including four-of-seven 3-pointers in his career best performance, the Huskies simply blitzed the Bruins.
“It definitely seemed out of nowhere,” Anderson said. “I really don’t know what was going on at that time. It was such a scrambled situation. They got a lot of easy buckets, easy open shots. At that time, our defensive intensity wasn’t to where it should’ve been. That run hurt us.”
The turnovers stung a little bit more, the hydrogen peroxide in the gaping wound.
UCLA committed gaffe after gaffe during Washington’s run, the hostile environment toying with the young Bruins.
In winning their seventh straight over UCLA at Hec Pavilion, the Huskies fed off the energy of the crowd, overcoming a porous first-half to build momentum as the game got closer.
“It’s some of that, but it’s March now,” Howland said when asked if the team was affected by the crowd. “We’ve been in some tough environments and this is one of the toughest in our conference. (It hurt) not having a timeout or two to be able to shut it down there.”
The Washington crowd was particularly hostile to Bruin freshman center Joshua Smith, making his homecoming. The Kent, Wash., native – who committed to UCLA over the Huskies to the ire of Washington fans – had 12 points and 16 rebounds, but also committed five turnovers.
The Bruins finished with 18 giveaways for the game after committing just eight in the team’s 71-49 win over Arizona last Saturday at Pauley Pavilion, a win that put the team tied atop the Pac-10 with the Wildcats.
Now UCLA is a game behind with one left to play, at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday at Washington State.
“The turnovers hurt us,” Howland said. “Their pressure did a good job of forcing 18 turnovers. We lost our composure a couple of times.”
Never more so than with 10:45 left in the game.
With the Bruins trailing 40-38 after a Smith putback of a Reeves Nelson miss, Nelson was called for a technical foul for slapping the floor in frustration.
“I was just really upset with myself because, like I said, I couldn’t really make anything in the second half,” said Nelson, who finished with 10 points on four-of-13 shooting. “The ref thought I was upset at him but I went up to him after and said I was mad at myself. But the perception was that I was mad at him.”
Ultimately, all the Bruins are internalizing their personal frustration, knowing they let a winnable game slip away.
“I was surprised – we’re usually good at stopping the bleeding, but they have a good crowd here, and you could basically just feel the momentum shifting,” Lee said. “That’s no excuse; I still think we should’ve been able to stop the bleeding. They just got that confidence.”