LOS ANGELES — Isaiah Thomas lingered on the Pauley Pavilion court for a few seconds following Washington’s second conference road win in as many attempts.
He waved to the pale blue-clad masses who stayed until the final horn, watching their Bruins lose 74-63 to Washington on Friday afternoon. Thomas said, “See you in Seattle” was his message. Southern California people just want Washington to get out of town.
The football team’s shocker was sandwiched by question-answering road wins for the basketball team. It was a euphoric three days for Washington, capped by Friday’s handling of UCLA.
History showed Washington had a shot in a bowl game. It also showed the basketball team had little chance in Pauley.
The Huskies were 3-44 coming into the game. The three Washington seniors, Justin Holiday, Matthew Bryan-Amaning, and Venoy Overton, had never won there. Washington was 6-59 all-time at UCLA.
Not to mention Washington had only swept the Los Angeles schools twice. Once under Lorenzo Romar in 2006 and earlier in 1987.
But Washington leaves Los Angeles with the spoils after figuring out brutish USC and limiting under-manned UCLA. The Huskies proved they are far ahead of last year’s advancement, when they were 12-7 at the end of January.
“I think really good teams have the ability to play different ways,” Romar said. “Last year by the end of the year we were able to play two different ways. Right now, opening weekend of conference, we were able to do that in two games on the road against two very good teams.”
The depth is the main weapon. Terrence Ross punished small USC guards on Wednesday night and Aziz N’Diaye battled enough to take pressure off Bryan-Amaning. Same role for N’Diaye on Friday afternoon, but it was Thomas who got loose against UCLA.
Thomas dazzled. On his way to passing assistant coach Paul Fortier for 17th all-time on the Washington scoring list, he scored 17 points and distributed nine assists.
He drove and kicked. Dribble, stopped and powered up-and-under. The Bruins could not contain Thomas’ shifty dribble.
Under Thomas’ guidance, the Huskies hummed along in the first 20 minutes. Washington shot a cool 51.5 percent from the field against an overmatched UCLA defense. The only thing that kept UCLA in the game was the free throw line. The Bruins were 12-for-19, versus just 1-for-3 against Washington.
Bryan-Amaning produced a road double-double with 21 points and 10 rebounds. He leaves L.A. averaging 19.5 points and nine rebounds against the conference’s two toughest frontlines. Though N’Diaye fouled out of both games, his floor time made life easier for Bryan-Amaning.
“What Aziz’s presence allowed Matthew to do was not have to bang in there with big Josh Smith the entire time,” Romar said. “He was able to bang against somebody more his size and strength. He didn’t have to guard their biggest, strongest guy each time to wear him down.”
Washington was up 17 points in the second half prior to that lead being reduced to four. Darnell Gant hit an order-restoring 3-pointer to up the score to 68-59 with 3:20 remaining. It slowed UCLA’s roll and restored a beneficial gap. Gant’s three came off yet another drive and kick from Thomas. He was exquisite all afternoon.
A quick check of the schedule shows a clear path for Washington (10-3, 2-0) to move to 14-3 and 6-0 in the conference, then host Arizona for a duel with the Wildcats.
“We can learn from this,” Romar said. “We can learn that in this conference, this year, if we’re able to do this, we should have a chance to be successful from here on out.
“Doesn’t mean we’ll win them all, but we should have a chance to be successful.”
Doesn’t SoCal know it.
Stay Hungry Dawgs…
how good can this team be?