Thomas Proving To Be A Road Warrior
March 23, 2010
By Jerome Johnson
SEATTLE - Although the Huskies are rolling right now with nine-straight wins, it wasn't so long ago that many questioned their consistency - mostly because of their inability to win away from Bank America Arena. The Huskies have laid to rest many of those concerns as they rattled out four-straight road wins to end the Pac-10 regular season and have won five neutral site games in post-season after beginning the year 0-7 away from Seattle.
Through it all, the one consistency has been the play as the Husky affectionately know as I.T. or "Zeke" to his teammates. With the Huskies' struggles on the road, the team often looked to first team All-Pac 10 performer Isaiah Thomas as an offensive sparkplug. Overall, he averages 17.1 points per game. In enemy territory he ups his average to 18.0 ppg and in all games away from Bank of America Arena he is scoring 17.7 ppg. And of course, Thomas is doing it all with his typical flair.
Under normal circumstances, it does not take much to get I.T. going. Put him in a hostile environment and more times than not, the opposition better watch out.
"My motivation is their crowd and it [the game] being on the road," explains Thomas. "Everybody is against you and you feel like you have to play that much better. Those are the most important games, winning the games on the road. I feel like I have to take over sometimes and my teammates find me and I knock down shots."
In the last 10 road and neutral games, Thomas is averaging 18.1 points and shooting 43% (26-60) from the three point line while facing some of the loudest most hostile crowds in the conference at Washington State and Oregon and a tough duo of three-point shooting teams in Marquette and New Mexico at the NCAA tournament. The Dawgs boast a 9-1 record during that span, and overall have won 12 of 14 heading into their Sweet Sixteen matchup against West Virginia.
Against Washington State, Thomas scored 10 out of his 22 points in the critical minutes of the second half and surpassed the 1,000 point plateau in only his second season. Thomas is the second player in team history to eclipse this milestone in his second season, as well as the first in the last 52 years.
The farewell game at MacArthur Court in Oregon showcased yet another offensive explosion by Thomas. He sparked the Dawgs right before halftime by stealing the ball from Tajuan Porter and racing down the court to score right before the buzzer. In the second half, when the Ducks were closing in on the Huskies' lead, Thomas hit back-to-back three point fields to keep the game out of reach. Ten of his 14 points were scored in the second half and helped the Dawgs cruise to a victory.
The Pac 10 Tournament Championship game against Cal solidified I.T. as a big time scorer. His efficient shooting helped lead his team to its second Pac-10 Tournament championship and an automatic bid into the NCAA Big Dance. Thomas was 6-of-13 from the field and 4-of-4 from the free throw line (free throws proved to be the difference in the game). He was also named the Pac-10 Tournament Most Outstanding player.
The first and second rounds of the NCAA tournament provided Thomas another showcase of his offensive explosiveness as he used a great shooting performance to help carry his team to a victory against Marquette and New Mexico. The 5-10 guard from Tacoma shot 58.3% (7-12) from beyond the three-point arc and averaged 17 point overall. In addition, he shared the ball equally well, collecting a team-high 15 assists in the two games.
I.T. has 1,121 points in his career with potentially more games left to play. He has a streak of nine-consecutive games with double-figure scoring. His two-season output already ranks him 28th on the all-time scoring list.
With the rest of the season away from the Bank of America Arena, the team will continue to look for Thomas's scoring and energy to lead them. And he is very comfortable with that role.
"It's very important [to score], especially on the road," says Thomas. "You aren't going to get any calls. Nothing is going to go your way so you have to do everything you can to get an edge and get ahead in the game. I just come out with that killer mentality to just do it."
His mentality is appreciated by those around him. Teammate Quincy Pondexter has been the largest beneficiary of the threat Thomas has posed all season long.
"It takes a lot of pressure off of me," says Pondexter. "He turns it up to a new level on the road and we need that. As long as he's playing well on the road, it makes my job that much more easy. I don't care about scoring points, I just care about winning games."
"He has to continue that and to stay consistent with it [scoring]," says Pondexter when looking ahead to Thursday's game against West Virginia. "He has to continue to lead this team. He's doing a great job in helping us lead this team and doing a great job stepping up in big games."