SEATTLE (AP) — Until Washington gets its full complement of contributors back from injury, its winning formula is going to need a lot of scoring from C.J. Wilcox.
Unlike the last time Wilcox popped, he got some scoring help on Wednesday night.
Wilcox finished with 27 points, just off his career-high, Aziz N’Diaye scored 12 of his 14 points in the second half, and Washington snapped a two-game home losing streak by holding on for a 66-61 win over Saint Louis.
Washington (3-3) needed a strong non-conference home win after losing on a last-second shot to Albany on Nov. 13 and getting routed by 18 against Colorado State last weekend. And after an ugly first-half with little energy — perhaps due to the rare 9 p.m. local time start — the Huskies woke up the final 20 minutes.
“It was good to see. It’s an understatement that we needed that one,” Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said.
It helped that Wilcox had the most efficient shooting game of his career. He hit 11 of 13 shots, including 4 of 5 on 3-pointers. Wilcox just missed his career high of 28 set in Saturday’s home loss to Colorado State, but he provided enough for the Huskies to avoid their first three-game home non-conference losing streak since 1994.
“Once C.J. got hot, we were just playing off of him,” Washington guard Abdul Gaddy said.
Gaddy added 16 points for Washington, which played its second straight game without starting swingman Scott Suggs, who has a foot injury. Washington played just seven players as it continues to be limited by injuries.
Cody Ellis led the Billikens (3-3) with 14 points off the bench. It was Saint Louis’ last game away from home before conference play begins in early January.
Rob Loe added 13 points for Saint Louis, but leading scorer Dwayne Evans was held to eight points and stuck with foul trouble.
“Five different times, we did not communicate what offense we were in, what scheme we were in. So three of them knew or four of them knew it, but five of them didn’t know it,” Saint Louis interim coach Jim Crews said. “So that’s five wasted possessions, and that’s a big swing right there. … We just didn’t do a good enough job passing the information on.”
With the game tied at 29-all at halftime, Washington started the second half on a 10-4 run led by the aggressiveness of Gaddy. The senior point guard gave Washington its first lead since 12-11 with a basket that made it 33-31. Gaddy scored six straight points, driving to the rim and calling for the ball.
Saint Louis stuck around thanks to its 3-point shooting. While the Huskies were working on the inside, the Billikens were hitting from deep. A trio of 3s capped by Loe’s first of the game got Saint Louis within 47-46, but N’Diaye answered with consecutive baskets on the low block. N’Diaye then dived on the floor defensively to secure a loose ball, blocked a shot and altered another while Wilcox knocked down a 3 from the wing to give the Huskies a 54-48 lead with 7:19 left.
Wilcox continued his hot shooting with another 3-pointer out of a timeout to push the Washington lead to nine, and a shot clock violation by Saint Louis was followed with N’Diaye cutting for a dunk off a pass from Andrew Andrews to give the Huskies their first double-digit lead. The Billikens finally snapped Washington’s 12-2 run when N’Diaye was late trying to block Jordair Jett’s shot and was called for goaltending with 5:28 left.
“Especially with Scott out, me, Abdul, we both have to be aggressive,” Wilcox said. “Tonight was just one of those nights when my shot was falling.”
Romar wants Washington going forward to be based around its newly implemented high-post offense. But after watching the Huskies slog through a first half of being clutched and grabbed, Romar told his team at halftime to go back to their old motion offense, believing the Saint Louis would not be able to slow them off the dribble.
It was a smart decision. The Huskies shot nearly 64 percent in the second half and got eight baskets near the hoop.
“It loosened everything up. … We didn’t have to be real good in the motion because it was a different look,” Romar said.
Saint Louis made a final charge, cutting the double-digit lead down to 65-61 when Mike McCall Jr. hit consecutive 3s and Loe scored at the rim with 26.7 seconds left. But Andrew Andrews hit one of two free throws, and after Desmond Simmons grabbed the offensive rebound, the Huskies were able to dribble out the clock.
“We knew we needed this one,” Gaddy said.