In Washington's first meeting with UCLA on Dec. 31, freshman guard C.J. Wilcox logged four minutes, attempted two shots and scored two points.
Needless to say, he made a bigger impact the second time.
No longer hampered by the lingering hip injury that contributed to his prolonged outside shooting slump in December and January, Wilcox showcased a feathery stroke from the perimeter on Thursday night. He scored a career high 24 points all in the second half and sank 4 of 7 3-pointers, enabling Washington to complete a season sweep of UCLA with a much-needed 70-63 victory.
"I've been a part of a team that won a national championship and I've never seen a freshman do what he did tonight in the second half," Washington coach Lorenzo Romar told reporters after the game. "Unless he comes in and is one of these heralded All-American guys that's one-and-done, you rarely see a freshman take a team and put them on his back like he did in the second half."
Whereas other bubble teams have faltered this week in critical games, Washington (20-9, 11-6) took a significant step toward cementing its place in the NCAA tournament. The Huskes damaged their resume by getting swept by rival Washington State and suffering losses at Oregon State and Stanford, yet they can remove all doubt they belong in the NCAA tournament with either a win over USC on Saturday or a win in the Pac-10 quarterfinals.
For UCLA, the opportunity to capture a fourth Pac-10 title in six years may have slipped away when Washington stormed back from a late four-point deficit with five minutes to go. Arizona clinched at least a share of the conference title with its home victory over Oregon State, meaning the Bruins would need a win at Washington State on Saturday and a Wildcats loss to Oregon just to tie for first place.
"It was a disappointing loss," UCLA coach Ben Howland told reporters. "We had a great opportunity to come on the road and win in a tough environment. Our defense was really good tonight with the exception of Wilcox."
It looked as though UCLA might break a six-game losing streak in Seattle on Thursday night when reserve guard Jerime Anderson sank a trio of 3-pointers in just over two minutes to give the Bruins a 53-49 lead.
Wilcox led the Washington counterattack, knocking down a 3-pointer to immediately trim the deficit to one and then later getting fouled on a jump shot and converting the 3-point play to bookend a 10-0 Huskies run.
"It's good to see your shot go down," Wilcox told reporters after the game. "Coaches have been harping keep shooting. Luckily they have fallen."
Washington needed every one of Wilcox's 24 points because its stars had off nights from the field. Guard Isaiah Thomas didn't score against UCLA defensive stopper Malcolm Lee until a putback with 3:28 remaining in the second half, while Matthew Bryan-Amaning went 3-for-11 from the field and finished with just seven points to go with 13 boards.
The crazy thing for Washington is that a favorable NCAA tournament seed remains within its reach despite the Huskies' status as a bubble team entering play on Thursday night.
No matter where Washington's seeded, this kind of perimeter shooting off the bench from Wilcox makes the Huskies even deeper and even more dangerous.