I can watch this video all night. It still gives me goose bumps. What a great call by CBS announcer Gus Johnson. The narration was nearly as good as Isaiah Thomas’ brilliant playmaking. Loved it when Johnson said: “Cold blooded.”
We’ll never forget this shot. It reminded me of Quincy Pondexter’s game-winner that beat Marquette last year in the first-round of the NCAA tournament. The stakes were higher for Pondexer, but with all due respect to the former UW star, Thomas’ shot was much more dramatic and the degree of difficulty was much greater.
It’s the kind of play that will reverberate long after this game.
In a span of a week, the Washington Huskies made us forget about their late-season troubles and now – suddenly – everything seems possible again. All of their dreams. Their goals, hopes and aspirations appear within their grasp.
NCAA Sweet 16? Why not.
Elite Eight? Sure.
Anything is possible with this team.
“We felt from the beginning of the year if we came out and played Husky basketball and played the way we were capable of, we’d have a chance to be successful in most any game,” coach Lorenzo Romar said. “So we’ll go see. We’ll see what happens. It’s a good time for us to be playing together and playing right. I know that much. Where we go, what comes of the field of 68, you just wait for the call, prepare yourself and you go.”
Seven days ago, Washington slumped off the court after a home loss to USC that threatened their NCAA tournament chances.
After three wins in three days in LA, the Huskies are riding a wave of momentum in the tournament.
It started with Thursday’s emotional win over Washington State.
It continued with a business-like, no-nonsense approach in Friday’s semifinal win against Oregon.
Then finally, in a Pac-10 Tournament championship game that embodied all of the madness of March, the Huskies played their best game of the season. They absorbed a monster game from Arizona’s Derrick Williams, who finished with 24 points and 11 rebounds. They won without Venoy Overton, who was suspended from the tournament. They did it with a mixing defense, a little bit of zone and a little bit of their traditional man-to-man.
The Huskies relied on their seniors and its first-year players. They needed Matthew Bryan-Amaning’s scoring in the second half, Darnell Gant’s rebounding and Justin Holiday’s defense.
They needed shotmaking from Terrence Ross and timely shots from the freshman and C.J. Wilcox.
But most of all, they needed Thomas, who delivered the greatest finish in the history of the tournament.
And when their 77-75 victory was over, the Huskies won much more than their second straight tournament title. They salvaged the season and regained their confidence just in the nick of time.
“This means we’re back to where we were,” Thomas said. “And I shouldn’t say that because we’ve grown over these last three days. We came here and found that attitude again of not wanting to lose and doing whatever it takes to win. We had that last year. At times this year it wasn’t there, but I feel it now. These games were all different, but we weren’t going to lose. That’s what you got to have as you go into the (NCAA) tournament.”
MORE NOTES, QUOTES AND OBSERVATIONS:
— All season, we’ve been waiting for Thomas to hit a shot like he did today to win the game. When Washington lost at Texas A&M and Stanford, other players got a chance at the game-winner.
This time with so much on the line, Thomas was taking the shot. He knew exactly what he wanted to do and where he wanted to go. He knew 5 foot 10 Lamont Jones wasn’t tall enough to block his shot. Thomas said it was just a matter of getting to his sweet spot – the elbow. He used a jab step and a cross-over dribble to create a little room before lofting an 18-footer that sailed perfectly through the net. Swagger restored. The shot was the perfect ending to a magnificent game. Thomas scored 19 points in the first half when the Huskies absolutely had to have it because no one else could hit a shot. He delivered seven assists, including a pair of dimes late in regulation for three-pointers that forced overtime. And he collected five rebounds while tormenting Jones defensively.
Thomas also never left the court and played 45 minutes after logging 38 minutes Friday and 40 Thursday.
“I’m really tired,” he said. “I’m ready to get on the plane and go to sleep. It’s great. I have so much confidence in my teammates that I’m going to do whatever it takes to win. Like Matt said, in one of the timeouts I told him, I’m tired, man. I’m not worried about scoring.
So when I get you the ball, just score. Don’t pass it back to me (laughing). And they did a
great job of that”
— Got to confess I didn’t think it was a smart move putting Ross in the starting lineup. I thought it was too late in the season to tinker with the lineup and experiment with a freshman who had only played four minutes in the final two regular-season games. I was dead wrong. Ross takes pressure off of Thomas offensively. At times, the Huskies can give him the ball on the wing, get out of his way and let him create his shot. The other wings are getting better at it, but besides Thomas, Ross is the best UW player at scoring on the dribble. He tallied 16 points, which was the third straight games he’s been in double figures. Defensively he still makes mistakes, but he’s a strong rebounder. Today he had four.
Ross talked about the switch from not playing to being named on the all-tournament team.
“I would say it’s probably emotional,” he said. “It was kind of disappointing I didn’t play the first two games, but I had to shake it off, get focused. I knew I was going to start. I just
had to be prepared and play and prepared to work. I guess it paid off.”
— Wilcox missed four three-pointers before connecting on the biggest shot of his life. With fewer than 14 seconds left in regulation, Washington trailed 68-65. That’s when Thomas knifed into the Arizona defense and threw a pass to Wilcox who stood alone in the corner opposite the UW bench. Not sure how Thomas got the pass to Wilcox because he needed to thread it through a web of arms and body parts. Still Wilcox caught the pass and didn’t hesitate to shoot. His three-pointer tied the game with seconds left and forced overtime. The shot made amends for an otherwise shaky performance. He was 1 for 5 on three-pointers for nine points and three turnovers.
“C.J. has an uncanny knack of focusing and zeroing in on the rim,” Romar said. “When
that pass came to him, you could just see he picked out his spot up there, and I don’t think he heard anything. I don’t think he saw anything except for the orange ring up there. He’s already a good shooter, but you could just see the focus in his eyes and he knocked it down.”
— Gant led the Huskies with eight rebounds, which might be a first for his UW career. He also blocked two shots and scored six points in 29 minutes. One of those blocks was an emphatic spike on a Williams’ short jumper, which felt like payback. In their previous meeting, Williams sent Gant’s potential game-winning shot flying into the stands.
“Darnell did so many things in three days in this tournament to help us win games,” Romar said. “He would be Mr. Intangible. He’s really an unsung hero in this tournament.”
— Bryan-Amaning did his best work offensively during a three-minute stretch in the midway in the second half when he scored on a putback and two layups. Otherwise the senior forward had seven shots rim out or fail to fall. He also had three rebounds. Bryan-Amaning was the victim of questionable calls. He picked up his fifth foul when it appeared as if Holiday actually committed the foul.
— Aziz N’Diaye played 18 minutes and made the most of his time. He finished with seven rebounds and four points.
— Holiday has lost the will to shoot. He attempted just three shots – missing all three – and passed up at least three others. Still the Huskies need him on the court because he’s one of their best defensive players. He played 31 minutes and collected seven rebounds. With Ross in the lineup, Holiday is forced to defend a bigger forward when Washington plays man. When UW plays zone, Holiday moves to the wing and his length gives outside shooters fits.
— Scott Suggs finished with five points and two steals in 17 minutes.
— After connecting on 4 for 4 free throws in the first half, Washington made just 4 of 10 in the second half. At least two misses were the first of one-and-one attempts.
— Only three times in the Pac-10 Tournament’s 10-year history at Staples Center has the regular-season champion won the conference tournament: Stanford (in 2004) and UCLA (2006 and ’08).
Photo credits: Seattle Times -Dean Rutz