Photo credit: AP Photo
Another spectacular showcase from Isaiah Thomas (above), Justin Holiday and Matthew Bryan-Amaning. For the second straight game, Washington”s Big Three carried the Huskies to a convincing Pac-10 win.
On Sunday, UW dropped California and tonight they toppled Arizona 85-68 in a game that turned into a rout late in the second half.
Holiday said the trio has stepped up lately because they have the experience and sense it’s time for them to lead.
“We’ve all been here for a little while and we’ve played with each other for so long that you kind of know when the team needs a lift and that’s when one of us has been making plays,” he said. “Sometimes it’s Isaiah or Matt. I might take a few shots when those guys are out of the game. The great thing it’s not just one guy doing it all. And really it’s not just us. It’s everybody.”
Arizona coach Sean Miller was a big Thomas fan before the game and afterward, he spent about 20 minutes raving about the UW guard.
“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,” Milller said. “It is much similar to stop a player from doing one of the two, but when he can do both its almost impossible. Washington does a great job putting players in the right position, and some of their best baskets came off of Thomas passes.
“(Washington is) much different because he has the ball in his hands. They have some shooters around him. They’re playing kind of a different style. When he has the ball in his hands, a lot of bad things happen for you. I really believe this, he deserves mention among that elite group of college basketball point guards because that’s what he is. He’s a great point guard. He’s done it this year. He did it last year. He did it the year before. You look at his career and now who he is as a junior, it’s amazing.
“But that little point guard, Isaiah Thomas, I really mean it. When you start naming the names, whoever these guys are that talk all the time on TV, they need to get some film sent to them of this guy because if they’re not mentioning him, it’s really an injustice for our conference and it’s totally a lack of respect for him because he’s a great player.”
Miller and the rest of the Pac-10 coaches had difficulty solving UW’s ball screens at the top of the key. Thomas ran the play over and over and he used it get Arizona star Derrick Williams into foul trouble. It’s the same play UCLA had trouble with when Joshua Smith fouled out against the Huskies.
It’s a killer scenario for teams and it’s a staple in the NBA. There’s Thomas with the ball and Bryan-Amaning comes to screen. Thomas’ man is blocked and Bryan-Amaning’s defender jumps out to prevent Thomas from driving to the basket. Thomas, however, usually beats the defender to the spot and draws a foul from bigger opposing players.
The Wildcats said it was inevitable Williams would pick up his fourth foul.
“With the way that they [Washington] plays we knew that it was coming,” sophomore forward Solomon Hill said. “They set so many screens and Derrick has to run and hedge at a full sprint, and if he doesn’t get out there then Isaiah is going to shoot it.”
It’s a pick-your-poison scenario and lately the Huskies have thrived while running one of the most basic plays in basketball.
Washington (14-4) has a 1 1/2-game lead in the Pac-10 with a 6-1 record. The Huskies are clearly in the driver’s seat, but coach Lorenzo Romar isn’t taking his foot off the gas.
“We are making progress,” he said. “We’re where we want to be in terms of standings. In terms of reaching our potential, we still are a work in progress that way.”
MORE NOTES QUOTES AND OBSERVATIONS:
— The Maestro did it again. Thomas finished 10 assists, which is the sixth straight time he’s had at least seven. He also scored a game-high tying 22 points, which is the second time in his career he’s notched a double double. Thomas made amazing plays and he made simple plays. The only downside to his performance was a 6-for-10 free throw display. On one trip to the line, Thomas missed three foul shots. Otherwise, he smiled all night particularly when he was having some fun at the refs’ expense. Thomas talked about the second-half snafu when he took a free throw in place of Bryan-Amaning. Thomas knew he wasn’t supposed to take the shot, but he walked to the line and the official gave him the ball so he shot it. Said Thomas: “He wasn’t happy about that.”
He also moved into 14th place on UW’s all-time scoring list with 1,437. Next up: Detlef Schrempf (1,449). Thomas should crack the top 10 in the next three weeks. Doing so would mean leap frogging No. 12 Brandon Roy (1,477), No. 11 Doug Smart (1,478) and No. 10 Deon Luton (1,488)
— It’s official: Holiday’s shooting slump is over. The senior forward followed a 9-for-14 shooting display Sunday with a 7-for-13 showing tonight. He scored 22 points, which is the second straight game Holiday has had at least 20. He also added three assists, two steals and two rebounds. He played a career-high tying 35 minutes.
— Washington’s other star was Bryan-Amaning, who nearly matched Williams (22 points and rebounds) big play for big play. The senior forward had 18 points, seven rebounds and three blocks, which negated his season-high tying five turnovers. Bryan-Amaning struggled in the first half and scored 15 points after intermission. He also had a problem with free throws, missing half of his eight attempts.
— The other starters (guard Scott Suggs and center Aziz N’Diaye) combined for five points. N’Diaye led UW with eight rebounds and avoided foul trouble, which was huge for the Huskies because the 7-footer played a career-high 27 minutes. N’Diaye did his job. He played solid defense and he good at setting screens and freeing up Thomas. Suggs looks as if he’s still finding his comfort zone with the starters. When he’s not making three-pointers, he tends to disappear and tonight he was 1 for 4 behind the arc. At times, he’s asked to spell Thomas and direct the offense, which has been an adventure.
Romar on starting Suggs: “It helped against Cal in terms of who they were going to defend. Sometimes the opposition will put a longer, bigger defender on Isaiah [Thomas] if we’re going with two smaller guards. Now, they’re not really able to do that and, because of his size and his ability to knock the shot down, somebody has to guard them. Usually, it’s someone taller that has to guard him. Scott [Suggs] also doesn’t make very many mistakes. I think he brings some stability to that starting lineup.”
— Washington received significant contributions from the bench starting with Venoy Overton, who had one of his better games in recent weeks. The senior guard converted two difficult layups in traffic that wowed the fans. his other basket came on an two-hand alley-oop dunk from Thomas. Overton also played tough defense that sometimes didn’t get rewarded by the officials. He finished with seven points, four rebounds and three assists.
— It was an up and down game for Darnell Gant. Every time he made a good play, he followed it with a miscue and vice versa. Take for instance his second-half turnover that started an Arizona fastbreak. Still Gant made amends for the miscue and blocked a shot on the other end that led to Thomas’ great ball-saving dive into the tunnel. Gant missed 5 of 6 shots, but his three-pointer in the second half was a dagger in the hear of the Wildcats. He also had six rebounds and helped contain Williams, which is no small feat.
— Freshman Terrence Ross didn’t shoot particularly well from the field, but he went to the free throw line six times and made five. He also collected three rebounds.
— Everyone was hoping the three-pointer Sunday would snap C.J. Wilcox out of his shooting slump, however, the redshirt freshman missed two treys and was scoreless in eight minutes. He’s fallen to the end of the rotation.
— Solid coaching from Romar who mixed things up defensively and rotated between a man-to-man and zone defense.