SEATTLE (AP) — Playing at home for the first time in nearly a month, Washington got to show its fans just how much its focus has changed.
Right now, it’s all about the defense for the Huskies.
“We always knew we could play defense. We came into the season saying that’s what we needed to do,” Washington’s C.J. Wilcox said. “It took some time for it to finally get into our heads.”
Wilcox continued his scoring binge in Pac-12 Conference play with 25 points, and Washington used another stingy defensive effort to stymie Colorado 64-54 on Wednesday night.
The Huskies (12-5) improved to 4-0 in conference play for just the fourth time in the past 35 seasons and just the second time in coach Lorenzo Romar’s tenure at his alma mater. Again it was mostly because of their defense. After holding California to just 47 points last week on the road, Washington limited the Buffaloes to 36 percent shooting and tied for their second-lowest point total of the season.
Colorado was held 18 points below its season average. Spencer Dinwiddie led Colorado (11-6, 1-4) with 13 points, while leading scorer Askia Booker scored nine before fouling out. He made just 3 of 14 shots.
“They’re much better defensively. Now last year, they had the Wroten kid who was out there trying to steal and gamble a lot. But this year, they are much more sound defensively,” Colorado coach Tad Boyle said, referring to former Huskies player Tony Wroten. “They are so long. They are so athletic and they have the big guy in the middle. You have to execute to score on them.”
Wilcox scored 14 in the second half and he got help from his backcourt teammates. Scott Suggs added 13 points, and combined with Wilcox, Andrew Andrews and Abdul Gaddy, Washington’s guards scored 55 of its 64 points.
Since Pac-12 play started, the Huskies’ winning formula has been a lot of Wilcox and a lot of defense. No reason to change now.
“We’re a team now. Our whole team is together and we have a great understand of what we are doing,” Romar said. “Rebounding, defending, taking care of the ball, it all ties in together and I think that is why we are seeing some differences.”
Colorado continued its slide ever since its disputed overtime loss at Arizona to start Pac-12 play earlier this month. The Buffaloes stumbled at Arizona State, then lost by three at home to UCLA last Saturday.
Colorado didn’t find a solution to its woes on the road, despite Andre Roberson scoring 10 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. Colorado’s only true road victory this season remains a 50-43 win at Fresno State in December.
Washington led 28-20 at the half, a season low in points for the Buffaloes, who missed 12 of their final 14 shots before the break. Colorado had as many turnovers as field goals (both seven) in the first half.
Washington was scoreless for the first 4:51 of the second half until Suggs, as the shot clock was about to expire, hit a step-back 3-pointer while Xavier Johnson crashed into him. The four-point play pushed the Huskies’ lead back to nine at 32-23. The Huskies’ lead reached double figures for the first time when Andrew Andrews spun at the top of the key and found Wilcox open coming off a screen on the wing for a 3 to put Washington up 37-27 with 12:48 left.
Johnson scored on a tip-in with 5:10 left for the Buffaloes, their first points in more than 4 minutes, and Dinwiddie’s three-point play with 3:52 left cut the Huskies’ lead to 52-45. But Wilcox again had the answer with a quick cut into the lane and 12-foot floater with 3:20 left and Suggs found Aziz N’Diaye on a lob dunk to push the lead to 11.
Colorado got no closer than eight in the final seconds.
It was another sign of the defensive improvement by UW, which came into the night the top team in the Pac-12 in scoring defense in conference games, allowing just 56.7 points. Washington got hands in passing lanes, rotated to alter shots and created difficulties for Colorado’s offense.
“At home they are a different animal. They got after it tonight,” Roberson said.