Friday, January 21, 2011

Thomas leads #20 Huskies over #25 Wildcats 85-68

By Kshell

Isaiah Thomas recorded another double-double in a battle for first place in the Pac-10. The #20 Washington Huskies(14-4,6-1) defeated the Arizona Wildcats(15-4,4-2) for the fourth straight year in a big Pac-10 battle 85-68. The Huskies were once again led by their big three players of Isaiah Thomas who scored 22 points and dished out 10 assists, Justin Holiday who also scored 22 points and Matthew Bryan-Amaning who scored 18 points and grabbed seven rebounds. The Huskies overcame poor free throw shooting with great defense and some hustle. Along with some ESPN highlight dunks the Huskies showed once again why they are 45-3 in their last 48 home games.

The Huskies in the first half traded runs with the Wildcats the entire half. The Huskies would have a 10 point lead only to see the Wildcats cut it to two points in a matter of minutes. Some first half highlights saw Isaiah Thomas at the top of the drive to the hole and lob up a high pass where Matthew Bryan-Amaning threw down a hard dunk to tie the score up at 4-4. Then later in the game once again Thomas drove and threw an alley oop to Venoy Overton who threw it down to give the Huskies a 30-20 lead. That dunk had the Huskies dawg pack going crazy. Arizona would rally from that to see themselves only trail 36-31 at halftime.

At halftime the Huskies were led by Thomas who had 12 points on four for seven shooting including two for three from three point range. Thomas also had four assists but was just two for six from the free throw line. Justin Holiday hit his first five shots of the game in socring 12 points on five for six shooting and was two for two from the foul line. The Huskies led by the big man duo of Aziz N'Diaye and Darnell Gant along with help from Bryan-Amaning held Arizona superstar Derrick Williams to just seven points on two for seven shooting from the field. The Huskies shot 13-29(44.8%) from the field but only 3-10(30%) from three point range and an awful 8-12(66.7%) from the free throw line.

In the second half saw both big men wake up. The Wildcats Williams started the second half scoring six points in a row while Bryan-Amaning had scored eight straight for the Huskies. The second half saw the Wildcats grab their first lead of the game at 44-43. That is when the Huskies started to turn up the heat on defense which featured some key plays. The turning point in the game was when the Huskies were up 56-50, Darnell Gant had turned the ball over but hustled down the court to get a huge rejection. Then to save the ball Thomas dove into the stands to save the pass. After he finally got back he brought the ball up and then fired a pass to Gant for an open three pointer which he drilled to give the Huskies a 59-50 lead. After an Arizona timeout the dawg pack was going nuts. Then the dagger in the game was with the Huskies up 70-61 with four minutes to go Holiday hit a three pointer to go up 73-61. At that point the Wildcats basically gave up and the Huskies rolled to an 85-68 win.

The Huskies prevailed once again at home by double figures. Under Lorenzo Romar the Huskies have the toughest home court advantage in the entire Pac-10. Including this year the Huskies have lost just two home games or less in seven of the last eight seasons. The Huskies were led by Isaiah Thomas who scored 22 points on 7-12 shooting including hitting two for three from three point range. Thomas who missed his first four three throws would end up making his last six. Thomas would once again show off his passing skills with 10 assists to just one turnover. He was helped out by Justin Holiday who added 22 points on 8-11 shooting while hitting two threes and was four for five from free throws. After a slow first half Matthew Bryan-Amaning ended up with 18 points on 7-13 shooting with seven rebounds and three blocks.

The Huskies also had great games from role players that doesn't show up in the box score. Starting center Aziz N'Diaye played a career high 27 minutes and while he only scored two points he did grab a team high eight rebounds and had a block. He also contained Derrick Williams. Darnell Gant was another unsung hero scoring just three points but added six rebounds and two block shots. Venoy Overton broke out of his slump scoring seven points and three assists on three for five shooting. Freshman Terrence Ross made just one shot but ended up with eight points by being agressive and making five of six from the foul line. The Huskies despite shooting 7-23(30.4%) from three point range and 20-31(64.5%) from the free line recorded a very important win.

The Huskies held onto homecourt and showed the rest of the conference beating them at home will be difficult. With the way Isaiah Thomas is playing the Huskies looks very unstoppable at times. With better shooting from either the three point line or free line the Huskies would have won by over 20 rather easily. As is Romar has his most balanced team he has ever had. This team features great guard play and good play from the bigs. Today was a battle for who was the best player in the Pac-10 and Thomas clearly won that battle. Thomas once again accounted for over half the Huskies points today through his points and assists. Romar has finally found the right rotation it appears and the Huskies are rolling.


- When Romar signed Aziz N'Diaye it wasn't for run and gun teams. It was for big physical teams like Arizona, UCLA and USC. Although N'Diaye doesn't have great offensive stats on the year his impact defensively has been incredible.

His performance today along with Darnell Gant against Derrick Williams shouldn't go unnoticed. Williams still scored 22 points with 11 rebounds but shot 8-15(53.3%) a far cry from his usual 64.7% from the field. N'Diaye played a career high 27 minutes and Gant played 18 minutes. Combined those two added just five points but had 14 rebounds and three block shots.

Those two doing the dirty work on Williams allowed Matthew Bryan-Amaning to stay out of foul trouble. Bryan-Amaning scored 18 points grabbed seven rebounds with three blocks. Bryan-Amaning scored 14 points in the second half and traded bucket for bucket with Williams. Bryan-Amaning showed that he is one of the elite big men in the Pac-10. When Bryan-Amaning is named first team all Pac-10 he should thank N'Diaye and Gant for doing the little things that typically go unnoticed.

- Venoy Overton for the second straight game came off the bench. Overton looked like the Overton of old which was full of passion and great energy. We can all speculate why he played poorly in the Bay Area but he played well against Arizona.

He had seven points including an amazing alley oop dunk that brought back memories of Curtis Allen to Nate Robinson ironically also against Arizona. Overton also had back to back lay ups after Arizona pulled within three points. Both layups should have been called a foul but they weren't. Overton didn't do anything stupid and played his game.

When Overton is providing that spark off the bench the Huskies are a dangerous team. The Huskies have three scorers(Thomas, Holiday and Bryan-Amaning) and a defensive specialist(N'Diaye and Gant) they now need the fifth guy to step up. Terrence Ross at times has shown he can do that. Since Scott Suggs has been starting he hasn't done that. Ultimately though Overton will be asked to finish the games so he needs to step up his play. Hopefully for Overton he can get back to playing basketball instead of worrying about other distractions.

- Isaiah Thomas is playing out of his mind right now. He is passing(10 assists, passed Nate Robinson for 9th all-time in school history), scoring(22 points on just 7-12 shooting) and hustling(six rebounds, diving out of bounds). Thomas is having a magical season while completely changing his game.

Usually when a player changes his game that is because he was playing poorly. Thomas although at times was frustrating the old Thomas was still a great player. Thomas the last two years was only freshman of the year, first team all Pac-10, honorable mention the other year and Pac-10 tournament MVP. He also was part of a Pac-10 championship regular champion as a freshman and tournament champion as a sophomore.

When Abdul Gaddy went down the Huskies needed a point guard. Thomas took over and hasn't looked back. Thomas has had at least seven assists in six straight games now. He is scoring more points than he did before while taking smarter shots. Thomas with the Huskies high pick and roll are also getting the other teams big man in foul trouble. When Williams picked up his fourth foul with 10 minutes to go in the game that was the ballgame. Against UCLA, Josh Smith fouled out due to that play as well.

When Thomas is driving to the hole the other team has some options and none of them are good. The first option is to collapse on him and force him to pass it out. The problem with that is Thomas usually finds Matthew Bryan-Amaning for an easy bucket who is shooting 58.0% from the field. The second option is collapse on Thomas while still covering Bryan-Amaning. The problem with that is Thomas can kick it to a wide open three point shooter. The Huskies have four guys besides Thomas and the injured Gaddy who make a three pointer a game. The Huskies also have five guys besides those two who shoot 35% or better from three point range. The last option is to defend Thomas straight up. Well we all know why that is bad since Thomas will blow by anyone. With Thomas playing this way I don't see the Huskies losing very many more games the rest of the year.

Ultimately all the Huskies did was win a home game in the first half of the Pac-10 season. The Huskies still have 11 more games left in Pac-10 play which we have seen shows there is plenty of basketball left to be played. Unlike previous years the Huskies haven't trapped themselves into a corner where they are forced to go on a late run just to make the NCAA tournament. The Huskies barring a total collapse which I can't see happening in this conference or with this talent will make the NCAA tournament for the third straight year. Romar will keep his guys focused but today was another example of how hustle and defense can overcome anything. The Huskies shot terrible but were still victorious due to the hustle and defense. Oh yes this guy named Isaiah Thomas helps as well. When Thomas is setting up his teammates the Huskies look almost unstoppable.

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