Dec. 6, 2010
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - The Huskies' mainland cruise continues.
Justin Holiday is swishing shots better than he ever has. Matthew Bryan-Amaning is responding to a new role off the bench with game-turning plays of grit - and floor burns. Isaiah Thomas is being the national player-of-the-year candidate he already is.
And, after getting through some brief, rare choppy waters at home Monday night, the Huskies' mainland cruise continues.
Holiday equaled his career high set two days earlier with 20 points, Thomas also had 20 and senior Bryan-Amaning came off the bench with 15 points and key hustle plays in the second half as 21st-ranked Washington turned back Portland's comeback in a 94-72 victory at Hec Edmundson Pavilion.
"We've been like that all season. We've kind of got a versatile team," Thomas understated.
The 5-foot-8 Thomas added a team-high seven rebounds plus four assists for the Huskies (6-2), who let a 16-point lead become a six-point game during an uneven second half.
Not that coach Lorenzo Romar saw anything wrong with finally getting tested some at home, after five boat races here this season.
He was pleased with the Dawgs' bark after getting challenged by a 10-0 run by Portland that had the Pilots (7-3) within 68-62 with 8 minutes remaining.
Washington's only losses have come at last month's loaded Maui Invitational, to top-10 teams Kentucky and Michigan State. In the continental U.S., the Huskies have barely been threatened. They were leading the nation with an average of 95.7 points per game coming in.
"You say tough. It was great," Romar said. "We were in a position tonight where we are going to be. We are going to be in this position a lot more coming up and we were able to be there.
"We hadn't been there. The two games in Maui were really close. This time we had a lead and we had to protect the lead. So it was a great situation."
Wait, wouldn't you rather keep winning by 30 or 40, Coach?
"No," Romar said. "I like what he had to do in this game and what we learned about ourselves."
Luke Sikma, the son of former NBA SuperSonics great Jack Sikma from Bellevue, Wash., had 14 points and 16 rebounds for Portland. The Pilots had won three games in a row and had only lost to Kentucky and Washington State, the latter after rallying in the second half like they did Monday.
Holiday started like his Saturday against Texas Tech never ended. He made four of five shots in the first half, including three of four from 3-point range, while scoring 14 points. Washington led 46-31 at the half.
He has 31 of his 40 points the last two games during the opening half. His previous career high for points over consecutive whole games had been 24.
It's the result of maturity, as one of UW's three seniors -- and of a summer spent working on his jump shot to the point he has unprecedented confidence in it. That, in turn, has the Huskies confident in finding him.
"I didn't try to shoot in the past," Holiday said. "I wasn't a scorer. I wasn't shooting aggressively."
Washington got its lead to 16 midway through the second half, but then Portland went on that 10-0 run with two 3-pointers by Nemanja Mitrovic and four points from Sikma.
"I looked up and we were up by a lot, then I looked up and we were only up six," Thomas said. "It didn't feel like the other (blowout wins)."
Romar was not pleased with Huskies' defensive intensity during the Pilots' comeback. During a timeout he sternly talked to his players, not yelling but pointedly speaking while bobbing his head.
They got the message. Defensive ace Venoy Overton got a steal. Thomas tracked down his errant pass, drove and got his shot blocked in the lane. But Bryan-Amaning, relegated to the bench the last two games while 7-footer Aziz N'Diaye earned starts for great play in Maui, plunged chest-first onto the floor and grabbed the ball. While prone, Bryan-Amaning pushed a pass to Thomas, who found Scott Suggs open at the top of the key for a pivotal 3-point swish.
Washington was back up 75-62. Portland never got closer than 12 after that. Bryan-Amaning also had six rebounds and three steals to go with his 5-for-7 shooting from the field. All that, on a right ankle he sprained in practice Thursday. He had an ice bag on it after the game.
So, yes, he's doing fine in his two-game-old role off the bench, a spot Romar doesn't think the 6-9 forward will be in long.
Plays like Monday's tenacious one will have him starting again sooner rather than later.
"Coach, one thing he harps on is if there's a loose ball, dive," Bryan-Amaning said. "It really changes momentum. And everybody notices."
It took the Huskies about half the opening period to lose their quizzical looks and solve Portland's active zone defense. But when they did, the results were pretty.
Thomas was particularly stylish. He raced the other way with a Pilots turnover, jumped toward the rim, met a defender, then spun in the air to leave a hockey-like drop pass for Terrence Ross. The Huskies freshman from Portland's Jefferson High slammed home the fancy assist to put Washington up by double digits for the first time.
Thomas then floated into the lane, shifted his body left to avoid a defender in the air and scooped a shot off softly off the glass for two of his fancier points in his 13-point opening half. That one gave UW its 15-point lead at the break.
With Holiday sizzling, Bryan-Amaning showing grit and Thomas being Thomas, the Huskies seemed primed for their first test in an opponent's arena this season: Saturday at Texas A&M.
"We're going to see how mature we are," Thomas said. "Away games are big. It seems like the refs are against you, the fans are against you. And Texas A&M is a great team.
"We just have to be ready from the tipoff."