Saturday, March 12, 2011

HUSKIES: Isaiah Thomas sinks overtime buzzer-beater to give UW the PAC-10 championship

You’re too short. You’re not a good teammate. You don’t have a good jump shot. You’re not a good passer. You can’t hit the big shot when it counts.

You can’t be a leader.

These are the things Isaiah Thomas has heard from his critics throughout his career at Washington.

Well, he shut them up today. Big time.

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With only a couple ticks on the clock left, game tied at 75, Isaiah Thomas waved away teammates saying that this was his shot, his moment. The rest of the team obeyed General Thomas and cleared out, leaving just Arizona's Lamont Jones between him and the basket. Thomas broke Jones’ ankles with a hard left-footed jab step, and then proceeded to sink a fading, 17 foot jump shot to win the PAC-10 Tournament for the Huskies.

"I knew I had a smaller guy on me, so I could get a shot off and I just made a little step back and God made the ball go in the hoop.” said Thomas.

But, this championship game had much more to it than just that moment of greatness. Much more.

The rubber game between the Huskies and the Arizona Wildcats started off like UW’s previous two games in the PAC-10 Tourney, very intense. Both teams seemed to start off with butterflies in their stomachs, and that was reflective on the offensive end as the score was low early. Forward Matthew Bryan-Amaning, the Huskies’ second leading scorer, got two fouls early in the game and had to be taken out. But thanks to the man who often got harped on for not stepping up and being a leader, UW stuck with Arizona.

Isaiah Thomas scored 19 of his game high 29 points in the first half, much to the apparent delight of play-by-play commentator Gus Johnson. Johnson dumped deserved praise on Thomas all game.

I.T. would hit a fade away three, drive the lane, or dish an assist to Terrence Ross (16 points) or C.J. Wilcox (9 points). Thomas didn’t back down from anything, not even PAC-10 player of the year Derrick Williams (24 points). Isaiah was in the zone.

UW went into halftime down 33-36.

To win, the Huskies realized that someone else would have to preform besides Isaiah Thomas. I.T. is human, and couldn’t win the game on his own.

Matthew Bryan-Amaning got the message.

After scoring 0 points the first half, MBA scored 9 points in the second half, often right in the face of Derrick Williams. Matthew showed why he was named the PAC-10’s most improved player, both skill wise and mentally.

With MBA finally providing a force inside, the Huskies became more balanced, and it showed.The Huskies led 59-55 when Arizona went on an 8-0 run to go up 63-59. Washington went 6 1/2 minutes without a basket before I.T. and Ross scored two threes to tie the game at 65.

Then, just like that, the game appeared to slip away from the Huskies as Arizona went up by three with 14 seconds left. Who would step up? Isaiah? MBA? Justin Holiday?

C.J. Wilcox, that’s who. Isaiah Thomas drove the court, drove the lane, then kicked it out to the sharpshooting freshman. Wilcox then proceeded to calmly sink the three with 5.4 seconds left. Arizona’s Lamont Jones had a chance to win, but Jones’ on the run, desperation shot bounced off the back rim.

UW outscored Arizona 9-7 in the overtime period, thanks to clutch shots by Terrence Ross and of course, Isaiah Thomas.

"One of these days when I'm not coaching anymore, I'll sit back in the rocking chair and reminisce about this game," Head coach Lorenzo Romar said. "Reminisce how Isaiah Thomas just totally flagged off his coach, no. I'll remember a lot of things about this tournament, and they're all good."

This game reassured, at least to me, that Washington has always been the best team in the PAC-10. Yeah, Arizona might have PAC-10 player of the year Derrick Williams, but Arizona doesn’t have the kind of depth that Washington has. Arizona doesn’t have the man who proved he’s not too short, he is a good teammate, he has a good jump shot, he is a good passer, and he can hit the shot when it counts.

He’s a leader. And his name is Isaiah Thomas.

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