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"Containing" Arizona Wildcats star and NBA lottery prospect Derrick Williams was pretty impressive by any defensive standard.
But Washington Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar helped articulate what made it so impressive.
UW Basketball: Huskies' Zone Defense Hardly An ‘Earth-Shattering Revelation’ - SB Nation Seattle
However, what makes the performance particularly impressive is what didn't show up in the boxscore. With the benefit of film-enhanced hindsight, Romar explained that how Williams got his points was as important as the final stat line.
"If you think about it, how many of those buckets were scored with him and Aziz?" asked Romar after listing every single basket that Williams scored in the second half. "Now they run a motion a lot and he's running him all over the perimeter. But with that being said, the only time he scored on Aziz was in the first half - he went to the basket and drove it and made a nice shot. And he hit the three. Other than that, Aziz did a phenomenal job. And Derrick Williams only went to the line seven times - he averages 10 times going to the line a game. People might not pick that up - that might go over a lot of people's heads."
But while N'Diaye was an essential part of containing Williams, this was a team effort. And Romar's shot-by-shot breakdown of Williams' performance just before that quote helps to clarify that.
"He had two in the first half," said Romar of Williams' 8-for-15 performance. "Watch this...
The point here: the Huskies reduced the Pac-10's second-leading scorer entering the game into a player forced to pick up what we'd normally describe as hustle points. Yes, he still got his. But it didn't come easy and the Huskies didn't allow him to take over the game.
Click here to see SBN Seattle's feature about how and why the Huskies are using more zone defense this season.
We can start going back and forth forever about what makes a good point guard: something innate? something learned? a personality trait?
But the fact is that the point guard performance of Washington Huskies guard Isaiah Thomas might have made the play of Arizona Wildcats point guards Lamont Jones and Jordin Mayes look worse in contrast for some fans.
Arizona Wildcats defeated by Washington Huskies - Arizona Desert Swarm
Thomas was effective in all of these areas. Which made Arizona's PG play look that much worse.
Momo Jones and Jordin Mayes had just 4 assists. Combined. Momo in particular, looked more concerned with getting inside and scoring himself than getting the ball to somebody that was open. His comments echoed comments that I've heard all season. Momo is not a point guard. He is a shooting guard. "It's a tough transition every game," said Jones. "It's just tough being a guy that wasn't a point guard and being brought into that. It's tough night in and night out. It wasn't harder or less harder than any other game."
First, they actually only combined for three assists, but that's neither here nor there.
The second, and more important point, is that they also combined for five turnovers and 5-for-13 shooting (although Mayes, to his credit, did get himself four free throw attempts to go with his three field goal attempts).
It was just an overall inefficient performance from the two lead ball handlers whose decisions - whether distributing or scoring - simply didn't work out that well.
Washington fans can rest assured that they are set at the point guard spot, even after losing Abdul Gaddy to injury.
Isaiah Thomas and the Washington Huskies christened the newly renamed Alaska Airlines arena with some absolutely beautiful basketball.
But as perfect a way it might have been to "open" a renamed arena, I'm firmly in agreement with SBN Seattle's own Washington State alum Brian Floyd.
Hec Edmundson Pavilion Gets A New Sponsor As Alaska Airlines Buys Naming Rights - The Daily Drip - SB Nation Seattle
Fans, both of Washington and rival schools, know the arena as Hec Ed. It is, in my opinion, one of the best in the country -- from the history, the feel of the arena and everything else that goes a game there. And all that is associated with Hec Ed, not an artificial name bought by a corporation.
Hec Ed is a tradition -- and one that's diluted by trying to force a new name on the fans. I understand having to sell the naming rights in the interest of making quick money in a time where athletic departments need it, but there's no amount of sponsorship will change what the arena is truly known as.
As a Bay Area native, I still refer to place the San Francisco 49ers play as "Candlestick Park" - I never even made an attempt to call it anything else and maintaining Candlestick Point throughout the name changes is simply insufficient.
I don't care how many corporations try to tell me otherwise: the arena my beloved yet beleaguered Golden State Warriors play in is still the Oakland Coliseum (although, I've confessed that "The Oracle" is a cool place for a franchise perpetually playing for a brighter future to play).
And the Giants, well, I'll always call that ballpark "Pac Bell" because that was the original name, I guess. And maybe starting off corporate has something to do with having easily the best ballpark garlic fries in the U.S.
I don't know.
Anyway, the names of these places matter - it's difficult to unhinge the place our favorite sports memories occurred from the events themselves. That goes double for those of us with childhood memories in any one of these places: just being in a place that enormous for the first time to watch a few dudes play sports was something special.
And even a Cougars fan can see that.
Every team has a different test over the course of the season and the Washington Huskies' consistent test has been rebounding.
Although the Huskies were up five points at halftime tonight, the Arizona Wildcats were outrebounding them by a narrow margin overall and 6 to 3 on the offensive boards. That might not seem like a lot until considering the percentage of missed shots that Arizona was grabbing - the Wildcats were about 12 percent better on the offensive boards than the Huskies.
In the second half, the Huskies turned that around, beating Arizona 41 percent to 20 percent and finishing ahead in total rebounding for the game.
Yet that wasn't even the biggest turnaround of the game.
In something of a rarity, both teams actually improved their shooting in the second half with Arizona taking a 13 percent leap to 46.7 percent while Washington took about a seven percent leap to 51.6 percent.
It's hard to explain that other than both teams appearing to have shaken off some big game jitters in the second half.
But the player who took the single most noticeable jump was Arizona star Derrick Williams.
Williams ended up with a double-double, tied with Holiday and Thomas with a game-high 22 point to go along with a game-high 11 rebounds.
But it wasn't for lack of Huskies defense.
The Huskies' post players did an outstanding job of containing Williams, particularly in keeping him off the free throw line - as ridiculous as it might sound, the fact that he only had about half as many free throw attempts (seven) as field goal attempts (15) is actually an accomplishment.
As much as the Huskies defense is responsible for that, part of that also falls on the shoulders of Arizona guards - Williams struggled early in the game, going 2-for-7 in the first half and then the team seemed to look for other options.
As efficient as Williams ultimately was, Washington's Justin Holiday was by far the most efficient scorer of the game.
Everybody is talking a lot Isaiah Thomas right now and rightfully so.
But to pick up all these assists, somebody has to be making shots and right now one of the hottest people on the team has been Justin Holiday.
There were times in the game when it literally seemed like Thomas was dribbling around the court with the express purpose of waiting for Holiday to pop open on the 3-point line.
Of course, that wasn't actually the case, but it would have made sense - Holiday was by far the hottest shooter of the night, finishing tied for a game-high 22 points on 8-for-11 shooting and played outstanding defense as usual. He also got to the free throw line at a solid rate with five attempts in addition to having three assists compared to only one turnover, including a beautiful pass on a Matthew Bryan-Amaning backdoor dunk.
But it's impossible to talk about beautiful passing in this game without discussing Isaiah Thomas.
It would be difficult not to attribute the Huskies' hot second half shooting to Isaiah Thomas' ability as a distributor and he definitely had the numbers to prove it.
Thomas notched another double-double with 22 points and 10 assists, but don't be fooled into thinking it wasn't as strong a performance as the one he put together Sunday at Cal.
Statistically, the fact that he got as assist on 36.5 percent of this possessions while only turning it over on 3.6 percent is astounding all by itself. But it was how he got those assists that was most impressive - even in comparison to the Cal game, they were more spectacular and varied.
A combination of alley-oops, thread the needle passes, and misdirecting the defense off the dribble. He's talked about being more comfortable at the point guard position by the game, but at some point we're going to have to acknowledge that we were sleeping on his ability as a distributor rather than him suddenly developing all these intangibles.
Sometimes it’s difficult to identify a play as a turning point as it happens with more than 10 minutes left in a game.
But with just under 11:30 left in the second half of the Washington Huskies 85-68 win over the Arizona Wildcats, point guard Isaiah Thomas made the type of play that says it all about who he is and what he means to the team.
After diving out of bounds and sliding toward the media room to save a ball to teammates under the Huskies’ own basket, he jumped up, sprinted back on to the court, gathered himself while bringing the ball upcourt to get the team in the offense, and then found Darnell Gant on the wing for a three.
Thomas talked during his FSN post-game comments about the Huskies being selfless as a team, but it’s hard to identify a better catalyst or example of that selflessness than Thomas’ play with over 11 minutes left. People have been talking for days about Thomas’ maturation into a true point guard, but that sequence showed the type of intangibles of that don’t show up in his increasingly gaudy assist numbers.
And behind Thomas’ ability to quickly switch from hustle player to poised leader, UW finally got the boost that had seemingly eluded them all game. From that point on, it was a slow progression to the epitome of Huskies basketball – forcing turnovers, pushing the tempo, and continuing to rely on their star point guard to find his teammates for open shots.
From there it was lights out.
Thomas finished with 10 assists that came on a combination of alley-oops, simple swing passes to open shooters, and feeds inside after dancing around the court to force the defense to react to him.
In addition to his dazzling play as a distributor, Thomas tied for a game-high 22 points with Justin Holiday who continued his hot shooting going 8-for-11 from the field.
For Arizona, star forward Derrick Williams got going in the understated manner than UW coach Lorenzo Romar worried about before the game, somehow ending up with 22 points on 8-for-15 shooting and 11 rebounds.
Thomas might not have the Pac-10 Player of the Year award locked up yet, but if there was any (irrationally) lingering doubt about whether there was substance behind all this more-than-a-scorer hype, his second half tonight should have put that to rest and nailed the door shut.
The bright spot for the Washington Huskies in their highly-anticipated meeting with the Arizona Wildcats is unquestionably their defense, particularly holding star Derrick Williams to 2-for-7 shooting in the first half.
However, turnovers have indeed played a factor in this one with UW center Matthew Bryan-Amaning unfortunately taking an undesired place in the spotlight with four of the Huskies’ eight first half turnovers and generally looking a bit too amped up for the occasion.
And so despite holding Williams down, the Huskies go into halftime only holding a 36-31 lead after the Wildcats made a late run.
Without Williams being otherworldly as usual, Arizona relied heavily on Solomon Hill and Kevin Parrom who had a team-high eight and six points, respectively. While Hill’s aggression inside has kept the Huskies off-balance defensively, Parrom has hit two timely 3-point shots.
For the Huskies, Isaiah Thomas and Justin Holliday continue to play outstanding basketball with a game-high 12 points apiece. But once again, Thomas is stealing the show with two beautifully timed lobs for Bryan-Amaning and Venoy Overton for dunks.
Yes, Venoy Overton.
If there’s anything that UW needs to focus on in the second half, it’s rebounding – they were outrebounded 18-16 in the first half and 6 – 3 on the offensive boards.
It's already been pretty well established that Arizona forward Derrick Williams is good.
Washington Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar briefly summarized how good he is at, well, everything.
"He's shooting 70% from the three point stripe, he can put the ball on the floor and drive to the basket," said Romar. "He's very, very good at drawing fouls. We know how athletic he is, period, but around the rim he's so explosive. He's just a tough cover and they go to him quite a bit."
As often as Williams shoots - consuming about 27 percent of the possessions while on the floor - his scoring efficiency is absolutely remarkable. And that frequency with which he shoots also puts his ability to get to the line in perspective - he has actually attempted more free throws than field goals this season, which is almost unheard of for someone who shoots as often as he does.
We could obviously all go on about Williams. But as it turns out, he also has teammates.
Derrick Williams Post Game 1-15-11 by Arizona Athletics (via ArizonaAthletics)
However, finding consistent production from other players has been something of a sticking point for the Wildcats, according to SBN's Arizona site Arizona Desert Swarm.
Arizona Wildcats to face off with Washington Huskies in measuring stick game. - Arizona Desert Swarm
Close wins could become close losses in a heartbeat if Arizona doesn't find some more consistent play from players not named Derrick Williams. I'm looking at you, Momo Jones.
Yet beyond Lamont Jones, Romar noted the play of Arizona's ball handlers.
"That'd be the main matchup, but then they have really good quickness," said Romar. "They have multiple ball handlers - they don't just have one guy that gets them into their offense. They have several guys who can come in and initiate offense and bring the ball in transition. They can really take advantage of some matchup deficiencies that you might have."
Kevin Parrom, G/F (6-foot-6, 205, So.)
One thing that's particularly interesting about this team is that two of their most efficient distributors actually come off of the bench - in Parrom and freshman Jordin Mayes. While neither player is going to come on the floor and just light someone up, Parrom in particular does offer the team quite a bit of the bench. His nearly 40 percent three point shooting and ability to get to the free throw line at a reasonable rate actually make him the third most efficient rotation scorer on the team behind WIlliams and senior forward Jamelle Horne, even though he's not going to come out and shoot a whole lot of shots.
During conference play, Parrom's 57.1 percent field goal shooting is ranked either in the Pac-10 and his 50 percent 3-point shooting in Pac-10 play has him at fourth in the conference. So in addition to coming out and being an efficient distributor, he's also been an efficient scoring threat.
Solomon Hill, F (6-foot-6, 230, So.)
Hill is another reason why Arizona leads the conference in field goal percentage at 48.7 percent for the 2010-11 season - he comes in right behind Parrom as a fourth very efficient scorer in the rotation. His ability to get to the free throw line at a high rate - though not nearly as high as Williams - and hit 77 percent (eighth in the Pac-10 in 2010-11) is also important.
However, despite all that Arizona has going for them with the multiple points of attack that Romar talked about, they have struggled with turnovers all season and particularly in conference play.
During conference play, Arizona has a -4.8 turnover margin, which is ninth in the conference. Washington's turnover margin isn't a whole lot better in conference play (-0.2, sixth in the conference) but they turn the ball over on a significantly lower percentage of their possessions and have the highest assist to turnover ratio in the conference.
So if they get into one of those zones where they're playing aggressive defense and flying up and down the floor, it could be a long night for Arizona.
Washington Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar actually said that a reporter summed the biggest challenge of today's marquee game against Arizona perfectly by asking a compound question about player matchups and Derrick Williams.
"Nicely put," said Romar in response to a question about individual matchup issues. "Matchup issues and then Derrick. I think for us we've had a lot of good talent come through this Pac-10 in the last couple of years - lottery picks, guys who were good enough to leave after their freshman, sophomore years. Really good basketball players. But Derrick Williams, to me, is one of the hardest covers since Ike Diogu who was very difficult to cover at Arizona State."
To appreciate Romar's comparison, we should probably clear our minds of Diogu's journeyman NBA career.
There's a reason why the Golden State Warriors were convinced he was worth a lottery pick (aside from being a cursed franchise) - he was so dominant against college competition that he was scoring against double and triple teams. And even when teams did think they contained him, he had an impact on the floor.
"We'd defend Ike Diogu and it didn't seem like he took many shots and he turned the ball over a couple of times, maybe charged. Halftime, you say, ‘Good - Ike is not killing us.' He had 16 points. ‘How did he get 16?' Derrick's a lot like that: teams have taken away - maybe he's taken four shots in a half - but he still has 13 points because he gets to the foul line so frequently."
Coming off a Pac-10 Player of the Week award, Williams is looking as unstoppable as Romar describes - he currently ranks second in points per game (19.7), field goal percentage (65.8 percent), while also being seventh in rebounding (7.3 per game). It's an impressive season and as Romar alluded to, he's almost guaranteed to hit double figures even if you think you are actually containing him.
Romar didn't drop any hints as to how they might cover Williams tonight and we can expect it to be a combination of players. Yet perhaps the easiest way to defend Williams might be to take the approach that the Huskies took last season at Hec Ed: keep him on the bench.
Arizona Wildcats to face off with Washington Huskies in measuring stick game. - Arizona Desert Swarm
According to Arizona F Solomon Hill, Thomas is quite the talented flopper. "He gets out there, he talks a lot of trash to people. He does certain things that other players don't do..." Asked what Thomas does that others don't. "He'll come off a screen, and he'll act like somebody socked him the face when he come off a screen and he'll flop all out. And he'll get the foul. He kind of did that last year with Derrick, and Derrick ended up fouling out quick."
In fact, Derrick Williams fouled out after less than 8 minutes of game time. It will be disastrous if Williams fouls out early tomorrow. Clearly, Williams is better at avoiding that kind of thing this season, but it has already happened once this year, against the Kansas Jayhawks, so it's not unforeseeable.
Listening to Washington Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar tell it, it's probably safe to assume that his team understands the significance of tomorrow's marquee matchup against Arizona
"Knowing our team, my guess would be that we understand it's an important game and our guys do understand that Arizona has only lost one," said Romar. "We're playing at home - I think our guys understand the importance."
UW guard Isaiah Thomas - who has been mentioned with Arizona's Derrick Williams as a possible frontrunner for Pac-10 Player of the Year - not only seems to understand the magnitude of this game, but also even seems a little excited about it.
Thursday Looms Big For UW And Arizona - University of Washington Official Athletics Site
"It's going to be crazy, man," Thomas said of a sold-out Hec Edmundson Pavilion that should be rockin' like no other time this season. "I picture it like when (5-7) Nate Robinson got that alley-ooop against Arizona (on Jan. 29, 2004). It was standing-room only over there.
"I mean, it's going to be fun. I can't wait. It's going to be a huge game. We haven't really had a big game like this at home this year. I'm waiting for what the fans got. I'm waiting for what we're going to bring out. It should be a good one."
But down in Arizona, fans and media alike might see Thomas' comment as a cleanup after he supposedly gave the Wildcats a little bulletin board material after the Cal game.
Isaiah Thomas puts its all together for UW - College Basketball Nation Blog - ESPN
The showdown in Seattle is fast approaching, as Washington gets set to host Arizona later this week with first place in the Pac-10 on the line.
Isaiah Thomas hasn’t circled Thursday on his calendar, though.
"I haven’t," the UW guard said. "They probably have."
And at least one writer at SBN's Arizona Wildcats site Arizona Desert Swarm is none too happy about it, at least in the sense it might be the type of bulletin board material that will spark the Wildcats to swarm into Hec Ed and hand the Huskies their first home loss.
Isaiah Thomas fanning the flames of an already exciting game. - Arizona Desert Swarm
Wow. I'd just like to send a big 'thank you' to Mr. Thomas. His comment has surely reached the ears of the Arizona players. And while the coach may down-play it, there is no way that Momo Jones, Derrick Williams, and the rest of the Wildcats will take that lying down. Thank you, Mr. Thomas, for providing a spark to make the Wildcats train a little harder, focus a little better on beating you. It is likely that the Wildcats will be playing their best game so far this season, and Washington had better do the same or Isaiah Thomas and Co. will lose in front of their home crowd.
However, I might suggest an alternative perspective on his comments.
First, echoing his comments above, the full quote suggests that he's not exactly looking past the Wildcats.
Husky Basketball | Huskies are back, rout Cal | Seattle Times Newspaper
Thomas said the Wildcats probably have had the game circled on the calendar for some time.
"I haven't, but they probably have," he said. "It's going to be a good one."
Second, chances are that if you're a Division I athlete on a team favored to win the Pac-10 since about September, you're not really circling individual games on a calendar that often. In fact, you're probably stepping onto the floor every night expecting to win. It might even be reasonable to suggest that other teams are gunning for you.
Because, you know, that is what competitors do.
And there should be no confusion about Thomas' competitiveness.
"As an athlete anyone that aspires to be something great, you kind of have to think that way: you always have to think that you're the best out there, especially at his size," said Romar. "He has to think he's the best and he has to have an attitude about it. It makes it difficult sometimes as a coach because there's a certain way you want your players to handle themselves at all times on the court - you know, he's pretty flamboyant on the court."
If Romar can handle a little attitude on the court, I think I can live with Thomas not going around circling games on a calendar.
And if you think Williams is going to come into Hec Ed with his lips sealed, perhaps you should inform his teammates.
Arizona Wildcats basketball begins 'make or break' stretch
And who among the Cats is the best trash talker?
Hill initially said point guard MoMo Jones, but changed his mind to sophomore forward Derrick Williams.
"I'd say Derrick," Hill said. "When he gets going, it's hard to stop Derrick on the court, so he feels like he can say whatever he wants to to the other guys."
It would be more than a little surprising if Arizona players took Thomas' comment as anything more than an off-hand post-game statement in response to a question that may well have come off as irrelevant to him. Now that it's a story and all, it might make for some fun commentary as they're dapping each other up before the tip.
Otherwise, this probably doesn't qualify as the type bulletin board material that would spark a big win.