NCAA: Thomas leads Huskies into NCAAs
SEATTLE (AP) – On Feb. 6, just after Washington wrapped up a miserable week with a third straight loss, Isaiah Thomas signed off from Twitter saying he wasn’t jumping back into social media until March 12, the day of the Pac-10 Conference tournament final.
“We will be playing that day,” Thomas wrote.
Considering all that took place between early February and last Saturday, it was stunning that Washington did find itself playing for the conference tourney crown.
The reason they were there, and eventually outlasted Arizona 77-75 in overtime to win their second straight conference tournament title, was hardly surprising: the sometimes maligned Thomas, who now has two conference tournament titles and a Pac-10 regular season title in his three years at Washington.
“At the end of the day I’m a winner. I’m going to do whatever it takes to win basketball games,” Thomas said. “If they don’t like me, they don’t like me, but I’m going to do whatever it takes to win.”
Washington looked lost after it closed the regular season with losses in three of its final four conference games, then was hit with the added sting of backup point guard Venoy Overton being suspended for the Pac-10 tournament.
But that was before Thomas put together three masterful performances in Los Angeles that not only secured an NCAA berth but made the Huskies a popular pick to do some damage in the NCAA tournament.
Washington, seeded seventh in the East region, opens Friday night against No. 10 seed Georgia in Charlotte, N.C. A win over the Bulldogs would likely set up a Sunday meeting with No. 2 seed North Carolina just a couple of hours from the Tar Heels’ campus.
It’s the farthest East the Huskies have been asked to travel for the opening rounds of the tournament since 2004, when Washington lost to UAB in the opener in Columbus, Ohio.
“They send you out to go play and that’s what we’ve been doing all our lives,” Washington forward Darnell Gant said. “It’s not hard. It will be a tough environment, but if you’re a great basketball player, all great basketball players live for those environments to play in.”
Thomas’ regular season was good enough that he was named to the all-Pac-10 first team. What he did in three straight days against Washington State, Oregon and Arizona in the Pac-10 tourney nearly overshadowed what he accomplished in the previous 18 conference games.
His numbers: 123 of a possible 125 minutes played; an average of 19.7 points and 10 assists per game; and one giant step-back 18-footer at the end of overtime against Arizona.
That Thomas was able to make the fallaway jumper over Lamont Jones was a remarkable feat considering his exhaustion. Thomas admitted afterward that for large chunks of the second half he told his teammates not to pass back to him and take any shots they could get because fatigue was beginning to set in.
He didn’t score for the first 13 minutes of the second half against Arizona, deferring to his teammates after carrying the Huskies with 19 points in the first half. But tied at 75, there was no question Thomas was going to take the final shot.
He was trying to drive on Jones and get into the lane, but briefly lost control of the dribble as he crossed over at the top of the key. That forced Thomas to step back and actually created the separation he needed to get the shot over Jones’ outstretched arm.