Dec. 22, 2010
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - Isaiah Thomas had been hinting for weeks that he was about to break out.
He picked the perfect time to do so, heading into what he calls the "real season": Pac-10 play. And, yes, he planned it that way.
"I just wanted to be more aggressive - not just scoring, but making plays. I figured it was the last tune-up for Pac-10, and I just have to be more aggressive," Thomas said. "It's real time now. It's when the real ballers come out."
Washington's "real baller" set season highs of 24 points and eight rebounds to lead the Huskies to yet another blowout, nonconference win at Hec Edmundson Pavilion, 90-60 over Nevada Wednesday night.
"A veteran," coach Lorenzo Romar said of his junior guard, who was leading the Huskies at 15 points per game coming into their final nonconference game. "Isaiah is the kind of guard that can do many things. I think he is talented enough to adjust his game depending on the situation."
Matthew Bryan-Amaning added 16 points and 11 rebounds for UW. He, too, was impressed with Thomas, the member of multiple watch lists for national player of the year.
Thomas also had four assists. Some of them were exquisite.
"Isaiah is Isaiah," Bryan-Amaning said. "Everyone is saying he is having a bad year, he's this or he's that. Then he's going to shut you up with 24 points."
Thomas could have surpassed his career high of 30, set Nov. 13, 2009, against Wright State, if at least three of his shots had not spun in and back out of the basket. He finished 9 for 19 from the field.
The shots were also a season high. Yes, he indeed sought to take over on the eve of the Pac-10 season.
Classmate Justin Holiday, another defensive stopper who has shot well this season, sprained his right ankle and foot during the second half after having 12 points and nine rebounds. He was on crutches following the game, but precautionary X-rays were negative. Holiday said he will be fine for UW's next game.
Good thing the Huskies have a couple of days off, following a Thursday morning practice, to see family for Christmas before the conference season begins at USC on Dec. 29.
"Yeah, really good timing," Holiday said, smiling and leaning on his crutches.
Romar said both Overton and Holiday should be fine to play at USC, and at UCLA on Dec. 31.
The Huskies won all seven of their nonconference home games by an average of 30.8 points. This one came against a 3-9 Nevada team which is a shell of a 20-win team that lost two players to the NBA after last season.
The emphasis on rebounding that has the 6-foot-9 Bryan-Amaning and the 7-foot N'Diaye starting together since the loss at Texas A&M Dec. 11 continued to pay off. Washington's 56 rebounds were their most since the season opener, and the Huskies have 96 boards in the last two games. Even Thomas, at 5-8, was cleaning up the glass against the Wolf Pack.
But now here come the formidable front lines of USC and UCLA, and the rest of a treacherous Pac-10.
"No disrespect to any of the other teams, but we obviously know the level of play is going to go up," Bryan-Amaning said. "There are not going to be as many blowouts (inside the Pac-10)."
Thomas' final nonconference night mirrored his team's. He missed first four shots as Washington began 2 for 9 from the field and the game stayed close early. But then he made his next four shots, and the Huskies finished the half making 15 of their final 28 attempts to take a 20-point lead into the break.
Thomas raced to grab his fifth rebound of first 13 ½ minutes, then kept the ball, sliced between two Wolf Pack defenders, landed on a jump shot and spun the ball in off the glass with a billiards-like shot to put the Huskies up 29-16 early.
Thomas showed off his all-around night on the final possession of the half. He kept the ball for about 20 seconds out near midcourt. Then he beat two defenders from right to left with a crossover dribble, suddenly pulled up near the foul line as if he was going to shoot, then flicked a no-look side pass into the far corner. C.J. Wilcox wished the 3-pointer as the buzzer sounded, and Washington took a 47-27 lead into halftime.
Romar pumped both fists in Thomas' direction in appreciation. Assistant Raphael Chillious embraced Thomas in the middle of the floor and rubbed his head to thank him for his third assist of the half.
Thomas kept going after halftime. He scored five points in the first 3 minutes of the second half, then fed freshman Terrence Ross for a two-handed lob dunk. That made it 61-34 with 15 minutes remaining.
Thomas did everything - and we mean everything. After a whistle stopped play at the other end, Thomas drop-kicked the ball into a soaring arc. It landed perfectly and softly on one bounce to the official, who was about 70 feet away.
The show rolled on. Abdul Gaddy faked a Wolf Pack defender out of the gym with a spinning baseline dribble, after earlier one plain fell on his rear end trying to stay with Gaddy's quick dribbling. And Holiday soared for a breakaway, spinning, backwards dunk with two hands. That drew perhaps the loudest "Ooooh!" of the night for the entertained home crowd, announced as a sellout of 10,000.
It sure looked like it against Nevada, but are these Huskies - the preseason Pac-10 favorites who won the conference tournament last spring then advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAAs - ready for league play?
"Not yet, but we're close," Thomas said, knowing they have five practices before it starts. "If we keep yelling `rebounding!' and `offensive execution!' we'll be fine."