Thursday Looms Big For UW And Arizona
Jan. 19, 2011
By Gregg Bell
SEATTLE -- Isaiah Thomas has a message for those who see Thursday night's showdown for first place in the Pac-10 between his Huskies and Arizona boiling down to him against Wildcats star Derrick Williams.
Re-check your rosters.
"He definitely doesn't want to guard me. And I don't want to guard him," Thomas said with a laugh, knowing he is a 5-foot-9 point guard and Arizona's top scorer is a 6-8 forward.
No, Williams, who has scored 31 points twice over Arizona's last three games, will be facing off against Matthew Bryan-Amaning and other Huskies big men. Not Thomas, the leader of 20th-ranked Washington with 16.5 points and 5.4 assists per game.
"So it's not going to be between me and him," Thomas said of the last two Pac-10 players of the week. "It's going to be the Huskies against the Wildcats."
That's plenty big enough. A national television audience on Fox Sports Net will be watching the 7:30 p.m. tipoff. The Washington IMG College network has the radio call. And we'll have a live game chat, live stats and streaming audio as usual here at GoHuskies.com.
The Dawgs (13-4, 5-1 in the Pac-10), who are likely to start Scott Suggs again over Venoy Overton in order to pair a bigger guard with Thomas, are trying to go 6-1 in the conference for the second time in three seasons. A fourth consecutive win over Arizona in Seattle would solidify the Huskies' dominance of a league they've been picked to win.
The Wildcats (15-3, 4-1) have yet to defeat a team currently ranked in the top 50 of RPI, which helps determine NCAA tournament teams and seeds. Arizona is trying to win at Washington for the first time since Jan. 4, 2007, and seize control of the conference from the Huskies.
So, yes, this game is a bit bigger home one for UW than, say, McNeese State. So Thomas won't need much help in continuing his recent "Raise the Roof" movement of pushing his arms skyward after big plays. He has enjoyed many of those while making the 30-man, midseason watch list for the Wooden Award as the national player of the year.
"It's going to be crazy, man," Thomas said of a sold-out Hec Edmundson Pavilion that should be rockin' like no other time this season. "I picture it like when (5-7) Nate Robinson got that alley-ooop against Arizona (on Jan. 29, 2004). It was standing-room only over there.
"I mean, it's going to be fun. I can't wait. It's going to be a huge game. We haven't really had a big game like this at home this year. I'm waiting for what the fans got. I'm waiting for what we're going to bring out. It should be a good one."
Williams has been as dominant for Arizona as Thomas has been for Washington. Arizona's sophomore, whom Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar recruited, is the current Pac-10 player of the week. He is second in the conference in scoring at 19.7 points per game. He is also second in the league with a 65.8 field goal percentage. He has taken nearly twice as many shots as Pac-10 leader Brock Motum, a 66.3-percent shooter for Washington State.
Thomas and Williams both figure to in the purple painted lane areas of Hec Ed. A lot. Thomas leads the Huskies with 96 free throws attempted. Williams leads the nation by plenty, with 174 foul shots through 18 games.
Romar thinks Williams is the most difficult opponent to defend since 6-9 power Ike Diogu starred at Arizona State through the 2004-05 season.
"He's shooting 70 percent from the three-point stripe. He can put the ball on the floor and drive to the basket. He's very, very good at drawing fouls," Romar said of Williams. "We know how athletic he is -- period. But around the rim he's so explosive. He's just a tough cover. And they go to him quite a bit."
Arizona coach Sean Miller is saying the same things about Thomas, who electrified UW's season with a 27-point, 13-assist night for the ages Sunday at California.
"Isaiah Thomas is really playing at a very, very high level. He deserves to be put in the category as the nation's best point guard," Miller said. "He isn't getting one-tenth of the credit that he deserves in that category because he is a true point guard.
"He leads our conference in assists. He means as much to Washington on the offensive end as probably Derrick Williams means to us on the offensive end."
Whoever means more Thursday night will have their team on top of the Pac-10.
"It's going to be a fun game," said Huskies sharpshooting guard C.J. Wilcox, who could play a key role off the bench if the Wildcats try to clamp down of Thomas. "I'm really looking forward to it."