Huskies' C.J. Wilcox returns home for game at Utah
Guard C.J. Wilcox, a high-school star in Utah, was planning to play for the Utes until he took a recruiting visit to Washington.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Washington @ Utah, 11 a.m., ROOT
SALT LAKE CITY — C.J. Wilcox settled into a courtside seat before gazing up at the banners hanging from the Huntsman Center's circular roof.
"Feels like home," he said, smiling.
Wilcox estimates he has played more than 40 games on Utah's home court. He was a star at nearby Pleasant Grove High School, and as a teenager attended Utah summer camps and dreamed one day he'd wear a crimson and white Utes jersey.
"Ever since maybe the eighth grade, I thought I was coming here," Wilcox said. "As a matter of fact, I'd made up my mind I was coming here until I took a trip to Washington. Once I made that trip, I fell in love with the place and then that was that."
The 6-foot-5 guard elected to play on what he described as "a bigger stage" with the Huskies.
At the time, Wilcox had no idea Utah would leave the Mountain West to join the Pac-12. Had he known then what he knows now, it still wouldn't have changed his mind.
"I'm happy with my choice," he said. "I'm in a good place."
Before an 87-69 defeat at Colorado on Thursday, Wilcox's homecoming would have been the dominant story for UW's first Pac-12 meeting with Utah. However, the 18-point trouncing puts greater emphasis on Saturday's game.
The Huskies (8-6, 2-1 Pac-12) are desperate to snap a five-game road losing streak, while the Utes (4-10, 1-1) are flying high following a 62-60 overtime win over Washington State.
"It's nice coming home and all, but that's not really what I'm thinking about," Wilcox said. "My main focus is trying to get a win to get back on track."
Less than 24 hours after losing to the Buffaloes, Wilcox still had difficulty explaining why UW produced another uninspiring performance on the road.
"I feel like it's all under our control," he said Friday afternoon. "Nothing against the other teams, but we generally control if we play good or bad. We still need to figure out what we need to do to win on the road."
During a light workout at the Huntsman Center, coach Lorenzo Romar spoke to the Huskies at length about being patient on offense.
"When we go on the road, our offense hurts our defense," he said. "It hurts our defense because we don't make the other team guard us very long. Before we get to the 20-second mark — and a lot of times before the 25-second mark — we've taken a shot already
"It's tough, because sometimes they're decent shots. But you (don't score) three, four times in a row, mix in a turnover, and you take these quick shots, then they don't have to play defense. They're in an offensive rhythm, and that is what hurts us more than anything."
It's not a mandate, but Romar wants the Huskies to spend at least 15 seconds on each possession working the offense and probing for good scoring opportunities before taking a shot.
Romar doesn't mind if Wilcox takes quick shots, because the UW sophomore is one of the best three-point shooters in the Pac-12.
He's averaging 15.6 points and has increased his scoring since moving to the bench. In the past three games, Wilcox is averaging 19.3 points.
Utah, which is averaging a conference-low 47.5 points in Pac-12 games, could use that type of firepower. The Utes have scored fewer than 60 points in eight of their 14 games.
"We know it's a big game for (Wilcox), but we're trying to spoil his homecoming," said senior guard Josh Watkins, who leads Utah with a 15.5 scoring average. "We're not trying to let him come in here and catch fire."
Players often struggle when returning to play at home for the first time, but the even-keeled Wilcox didn't appear nervous Friday.
"He's looking forward to playing the game," Romar said. "... I think he'll just be very dialed in."
Wilcox dealt with ticket requests for 45 family and friends. He expects another dozen or so supporters will attend.
"I'm hoping there will be more UW fans in here than Utah's," he said, laughing. "Maybe it'll help us get this win."
Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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