Jan. 20, 2010
By Michael Jeremiah
SEATTLE - The defensive revolution that the Huskies enjoyed this past weekend has been credited to a number of things. Energy, effort and new personnel are all factors in the stifling pressure that frustrated California and Stanford. At five-foot-eight, it's easy to overlook Isaiah Thomas, but his defense against some of the top scorers in the conference is worth mention as perhaps the key to Washington's sweep of the Bay Area schools.
The defensive assignments against California and Stanford are some of the toughest in the country. Coming into the weekend, Stanford's Jeremy Green averaged 17.6 points and in his last outing scored 30 points against UCLA. Thomas drew the assignment against Green, and his pressure was crucial to Green's seven point performance.
Thomas was the point man on keeping Green scoreless until a lay-up with 2:45 in the first half, with the Huskies already up 18. After that game, Thomas joked that he wasn't on the same level yet as Venoy Overton, Washington's resident lockdown defender. Still, with the help of his teammates he had just shut down a player that he gave up more than six inches to.
"I'm a confident defender," said Thomas. "I feel like I can stop anybody. I'm not just saying that because of these last two games but I told coach that if you put me on the best guard or player I'm going to take it personally and do everything I possibly can to get the win."
"This last weekend, Jeremy Green was the leading scorer in the conference and I felt like that was my job, to stop him so we could win."
The challenges kept coming on Saturday, when California guard Jerome Randle came to Bank of America Arena. Randle was coming off a 39-point performance against Washington State and is one of the top offensive players in the conference. At five-foot-ten, Randle doesn't tower over Thomas the way Green does, but Thomas' effort may have been more impressive.
Shadowing the Golden Bear point guard is hard enough due to his quickness, but the fact that Randle's range extends far past the arc makes him incredibly hard to stop. With Thomas pestering him on defense, Randle didn't score until a second half runner, and was held five points on 2-of-9 shooting. He also harrassed Randle into eight turnovers.
So do the Huskies have a new top defender?
"I'm past Venoy now," said a straight-faced Thomas before cracking a smile. "No, I won't ever be Venoy. I'm just trying to play my game to stop another team."
Thomas has been known as an offensive wizard on the court throughout his life, and his scoring ability is undoubtedly the trademark of his game. Even while shadowing Green and Randle all over the court, Thomas still filled up the box score.
Against Stanford, Thomas scored 15 points and dished out 7 assists. He was a major part of the Huskies fast start against California, scoring 13 of his 20 points in the first nine minutes of the game. If he continues to draw the other team's top players, it may cause that production to drop off. Thomas doesn't mind , because Washington's success is based on more than his offensive production and he is always looking for a challenge.
"I'm going to do anything I can to get a win. If I have to score zero points and stop the leading scorer on their team, I'm going to do that," said Thomas.
"I always have something to prove. No matter what, you're never going to be perfect and someone is going to say something about your game. That's one thing in my whole life that people have said, that I haven't been that defensive guy. There's always something to prove. I'll work on it and try to get the best I can at it."