Carrying the pressure of two straight home losses and without the help of the injured Scott Suggs and Shawn Kemp, the Huskies managed to pull through with a five point win that showed that while this team has a whole lot to work on, they are still breathing, and they are willing to fight.
Saint Louis led throughout a competitive first half that included a technical foul on Coach Romar, which sent the Dawg Pack into a frenzy, but with the Huskies down 26-29 and the last few seconds of the half counting down, Abdul Gaddy set the tone for the second half by burrying a contested three pointer to tie it up 29-29.
In the final twenty minutes, several different story lines seemed to play out, all of them positive for Washington. First, and perhaps most importantly, was the awe-inspiring performance from C.J. Wilcox, who racked up 27 points on 11-13 shooting from the field, along with 4-5 from three point range. His consistency as a shooter is truly reminiscent of Ray Allen, every shot beautiful, identical, and calmly effective. He is clearly the star of this team on the offensive end, and if he can continue to play at anywhere near this level, he will certainly have a future in the NBA.
And then there was Abdul Gaddy, a player that has endured so much criticism for his perceived failure to meet sky-high expectations. So many have highlighted the necessity for him to step up as a team leader, and here he was, doing his absolute best to fill that role. Barking out directions, correcting mistakes, and most importantly, showing a willingness to play aggressively on offense. Not only did he show confidence in his outside shot and drive hard to draw fouls under the rim, Gaddy also successfully pushed the ball in transition. Smaller details about his performance were, to me, very important as well. In contrast to the quiet, sad-looking demeanor that has been the norm, Gaddy got fired up. He yelled to congratulate teammates for makes, waved his arms after a big play to fire up the Dawg Pack, and he dunked on the break. He dunked!
Aziz N’Diaye’s played a great game as well, and his role went beyond the 14 points and 8 boards. He blocked shots out of the gym, scrapped for loose balls, and after finishing an oop with a dunk, he ran over to midcourt and amped the Dawg Pack into madness. That kind of fire, and that kind of energy was exactly what I was looking for tonight. This team could have rolled over and shown that this was going to be a long season, but instead, those three players, and the team as a whole, gave the fans a reason to hang on.
Of course, there are issues. Tons of issues. Too many open threes allowed, long offensive droughts, and a real issue with free throws. If various Huskies had knocked down the first half of their one and ones in the final minutes, this would have been at least a 10 point game. But still, Suggs will be back any game now, and Kemp will be around in a few more weeks. The team is improving, including younger players like Jarreau, and when those two come back, we could see a very different team.