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Originally published November 20, 2013 at 5:05 PM | Page modified November 21, 2013 at 9:30 PM

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Huskies’ C.J. Wilcox gets another chance on Madison Square Garden stage

The Huskies have lost three close games at New York’s Madison Square Garden the past two years. Washington senior guard C.J. Wilcox has averaged 16.3 points in those games.


Seattle Times staff reporter

Thursday

UW vs. Indiana at Madison Sqaure Garden, 6 p.m., ESPN2

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Mention New York’s Madison Square Garden, perhaps the most famous arena in sports, and C.J. Wilcox smiles.

“Oh, man, where do I start?” he said the other day. “It’s kind of eye-opening when you first step out on the court. It’s a good feeling. Just a special place, no question about that.”

And ...

“It’s a place that if you do well, people take notice,” he added.

And ...

“It can also be an intimidating place to play,” he said, laughing. “I know that first-hand. I had a case of nerves get to me the first couple of times I played there. Shot a few air balls, for sure.

“I don’t know what it is. That place definitely brings out the best and the worst in people.”

Washington (2-1) takes a 1-5 record at Madison Square Garden, including a five-game losing streak, into Thursday’s 6 p.m. game against Indiana (4-0) in the semifinals of the 2K Sports Classic benefiting the Wounded Warrior Project.

Wilcox played in the past three UW defeats at the Garden and averaged 16.3 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1.7 assists in those contests, which were decided by a combined nine points.

Washington has followed a similar script its past two games in New York.

The Huskies fell behind early, made a push in the second half, but came up short in losses to Duke and Minnesota.

“I think guys were a little awe-struck at the beginning,” Wilcox said. “Just being on that court where so many great players have played — if you’re a basketball fan — that kind of hits you.

“But the sooner you can get past all of that and just realize it’s a basketball game like any other basketball game, the better off you’ll be. That’s one thing I’ll try and tell our guys.”

Wilcox returns to the Big Apple a changed man.

No longer a supporting cast member, he’s Washington’s biggest star and one of the tournament’s headliners, along with Indiana’s Noah Vonleh, Connecticut’s Shabazz Napier and Boston College’s Olivier Hanlan.

Each has flown under the radar, but they have a chance to insert themselves into the national college basketball conversation with strong performances in front of an ESPN2 national TV audience and an arena dotted with NBA scouts.

“Whenever you’re on the big stage, a lot of times stars are born or emerge or show why they’re the star,” coach Lorenzo Romar said. “And it’s no secret C.J. has done a lot for this program.

“This year he is a guy that we really look to do a lot of different things.”

The 6-foot-5 shooting guard has improved his game every season at Washington. Perhaps the biggest change in Wilcox’s game is the frequency he’s getting to the free-throw line. This season, he’s averaging nine free throws per game and shooting a career-best 85.2 percent at the line.

Wilcox has taken more free throws (27) than three-pointers (17), which has never happened in his previous seasons at Washington.

More free-throw attempts means Wilcox is being aggressive, which has been a knock on the soft-spoken fifth-year senior.

“I have to be (aggressive) with this being my last year,” he said. “That’s one of the things people wanted to see, so that’s something I had to implement in my game.”

When Wilcox decided against entering the NBA draft this summer, the scouts told him they wanted to see if he could carry a team without succumbing to injuries like he has in each of the past two seasons.

It’s early, but Wilcox is averaging 35.3 minutes, which ranks second in the Pac-12. He’s pain-free after undergoing offseason surgery to correct a stress fracture in his left foot.

“My body feels great now,” he said. “I’m doing a better job in practice of not running so much. Just taking every precaution and taking whatever supplement I can do to stay healthy.

“I feel great. So far, everything is good.”

Gotham City blues
UW senior C.J. Wilcox is 0-3 in games at Madison Square Garden:
DateResult PtsRebAst Stl
March 27, 2012Lost to Minnesota, 68-67 (OT)12432
Dec. 10, 2011Lost to No. 7 Duke, 86-8022321
Dec. 6, 2011Lost to No. 11 Marquette, 79-7715301
Going out with a bang
Senior standout C.J. Wilcox began his Washington career as a three-point specialist. But he has improved his game each year at UW in virtually every major category and this season is no different.
Season 2013-142012-132011-122010-11
Points20.316.814.28.1
Rebounds 6.34.33.42.1
Assists3.01.91.20.9
Blocks1.31.00.60.3
Minutes35.334.828.515.8
FG pct .400.419.437.419
FT pct .852.816.830.806

Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or pallen@seattletimes.com.

On Twitter @percyallen



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