It was a six-point game and Arizona’s Kevin Parrom was on fast break toward the Washington basket. Things were tightening, UW up 56-50 inside of 11:30 left in the first-place Pac-10 showdown Thursday night.
The Huskies needed to stop Parrom and take the game back from the surging Wildcats.
With a momentum-busting trifecta, they did.
It began with a Darnell Gant block of Parrom’s shot — without touching him. Big cheers from the sold-out crowd. The ball bounced once into the corner near the baseline. Isaiah Thomas leaped over the end line and, airborne, flipped the ball back blind, where it found Aziz N’Diaye. Thomas then disappeared on a belly-first slide deep down the corridor. Bigger cheers.
I was in there. I was almost back to the door,” Thomas said. That was big. The rebound was right there. I was going to do anything I could.”
N’Diaye was as shocked as anyone.
We needed that. Isaiah was like a winner,” N’Diaye said. He went for the hustle play and I just followed. He batted the ball back.
That’s the momentum in the game. We used our crowd to cheer us on so we just kept pushing.”
Didn’t end there. The Huskies hustled back up court. Gant hit a roof-lifting three-pointer his only basket of the game for a 59-50 lead. It was one of 10 assists by Thomas, who raced back to finish the play.
Bang, bang, bang. Three huge plays in succession.
That was big,” Thomas said. We got it and Darnell knocked down a big three. That changed the momentum to our side and we kept it.”
He also had 22 points and a single turnover. Those are winning numbers. He took care of the ball and had everyone involved.
The numbers were all positive for UW. Rebounds, 41-35. They had 16 assists, seven blocks and five steals. They shot 48.3 percent and held Arizona to 40 percent shooting.
That quick series of momentum plays Gant-to-Thomas-to-N’Diaye-to-Thomas-to-Gant symbolized how this team is playing and why it’s atop the conference after six games.
What I like the most about it, it was a total team effort,” UW Coach Lorenzo Romar said. It took a team effort to defend (Wildcat forward) Derrick Williams and the rest of them. It took a team effort on offense. I thought we shared the basketball.
We did this as a team and that’s something we talk about. You have to be excited about that. It’s not about the score, it’s about whether we tried to do things right. I thought we really tried to play right.”
As a team, they shoot well, defend well, rebound well and pass well, with minimal mistakes. They do it collectively.
Three weeks ago, things were in doubt. There was potential for this team to crumble when starting point guard Abdul Gaddy was lost to a season-ending knee injury. He calmed down this frenetic bunch down. He was on his way to an impressive season. Abruptly, it went tyo Plan B. Or Plan IT.
It is a team, but it is built around Thomas. Without Thomas stepping into Gaddy’s void, without his willingness to share, lead and inspire as he did with his out-of-bounds hustle this would a team without glue. Even with all its scoring talent, it would fall back in the pack and likely not reach the NCAA Tournament. Thomas means that much.
Isaiah Thomas is at such a high level, he breaks you down and wills them to a victory,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. Some of their other players are very good, but Thomas has an amazing ability to use ball screens to score himself or get other people in a position to score. It is much simpler to stop a player from doing one or the other, but when he can do both it’s almost impossible.
Thomas really makes that team better. I have a hard time imagining that there are five better point guards in the country than Isaiah Thomas.”
Over the the five games since Gaddy’s injury, Thomas is averaging 20.4 points, shooting 47.8 percent, with 9.4 assists and just 2.8 turnovers.
No one played lackadaisical tonight,” Romar said. Everyone put forth everything we had. That play (Thomas’ inbounder) typified how we played tonight.”
Romar always describes Thomas as a guard. He can shoot, handle, pass, see the floor. But much of his time has been at the shooting guard, despite the fact that he’s now in the school’s top 10 for assists. He’s not there yet as a scorer, now No. 14 with 1,437 points, just 12 behind Detlef Schrempf.
Longtime Husky followers already can see with these five games that Thomas is among the best five point guards in school history, and may well end up No. 1.