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Photo by Craig Bennett/112575 Media.
Just as SBN Seattle's own Brian Floyd wrote earlier, Isaiah Thomas put the Washington Huskies on his back and carried them to the Pac-10 title and capped it with an absolutely "cold blooded" buzzer-beating game-winning shot to cap off what may be remembered as among the gutsiest performances in Pac-10 Tournament history.
Video via @Jose3030.
This was unquestionably Thomas' night and although he plans to get some well-deserved rest on the plane ride back home, that final moment is not something that requires much explanation as Floyd described.
Gus Johnson Adds Cold Blooded To Legendary List Of Calls After Isaiah Thomas Buzzer Beater - The Daily Drip - SB Nation Seattle
No need for hyperbole or a long-winded call, just "Uhhhh ... AHHHHHHHH." It may not be elegant, but it described the moment perfectly using nothing but grunts. And on Saturday, with Gus on the call, we saw another instant classic between Arizona and Washington. And what better ending for Washington fans than Isaiah Thomas hitting a step-back jumper for the win as Gus screams in celebration.
But as hard fought as that game was, a large part of what put the Huskies in position to have a game-winning shot opportunity was their rebounding down the stretch in regulation and throughout overtime. Although they finished the Pac-10 regular season as the best defensive rebounding team by percentage, Mike Schmitz of Arizona Desert Swarm expressed concerns about their interior defense overall prior to the game and Coach Jay Will was none too pleased with it afterward.
THE LAST 3 MINUTES & OT OF THE PAC-10 CHAMPIONSHIP GAME - Arizona Desert Swarm
...during this critical time of game we were being punished on the boards. I don't know if Coach Miller has something personal against Jesse Perry or if he's loyal to Jamelle Horne, because we're being slaughtered on the boards with the ineffective Horne on the floor. Derrick Williams can definitely use some help rebounding, Perry provides that relief.
And indeed, rebounding was a decisive factor and a problem for the Wildcats that got increasingly worse over the course of the game - although the Huskies only held a six percent advantage in the first half, that ballooned to a 15 percent advantage in the second half, and in overtime the Huskies held the Wildcats without an offensive rebound while retrieving two of their three misses.
For the game, the Huskies won the rebounding battle 39 percent to 23 percent, which was undoubtedly their most significant advantage.
However, blaming the post play for the poor rebounding might be unfair - after that TV timeout with 2:56 left in regulation, Washington took one layup, five jumpers, and eight threes. So with that many perimeter shots, it's not that surprising that during that critical period of the game it was the guards who got all three of the Huskies' offensive rebounds.
Less surprising is that it was Isaiah Thomas who got both of his offensive rebounds in that time period, while also hitting a three, setting up those two threes at the end of regulation and hitting the game-winning shot.
Like Gus said: cold blooded.
Photo by Craig Bennett/112575 Media.
In my estimation, Seattle native Nate Robinson best summed up Washington Huskies guard Isaiah Thomas' buzzer-beating, dream-ending, off-balance jumper to win the Pac-10 Title 77-75 over Arizona best.
I have no better words than that.
After a season filled with so much frustration, so much unmet potential, and - just last Thursday night at halftime - perhaps even doubts about whether this team would be in the tournament, that's all that moment could possibly be.
There's not even any need to address those haters who questioned Thomas' basketball and leadership ability - that, in general, is what haters do. But when it mattered most, the facts should speak for themselves: 28 points on 10-for-16 shooting, seven assists, five rebounds, two steals in 45 minutes...and, most importantly, game-winning shot.
Arizona's Derrick Williams was outstanding in his own right with 24 points on 8-for-14 shooting and 11 rebounds and general unstoppability for most of the game. The loss does not diminish the fact that he is still one of the most talented players in the nation.
Thankfully, we get to see more of these teams in the tournament.
The Huskies just enter with post-season crunch-time bragging rights for the second year in a row.
pac10conference Live 2011-03-12 20:47:00 (via pac10conference)
Seattle University women's basketball assistant coach and Arizona alum summed up what sent this game into overtime tied at 68 perfectly.
With less than 10 seconds left and Arizona up three, Washington Huskies guard Isaiah Thomas drove left and the defender on Terrence Ross dropped off to help leaving the rapidly emerging freshman scorer open for a game-tying three to send the game into overtime.
It is the first time in tournament history that a championship game has gone into overtime.
For the Huskies though, trouble looms: both Matthew Bryan-Amaning and Aziz N'Diaye carried four fouls with them into overtime.
Meanwhile, Arizona's Derrick Williams is proving that more than four defenders are required to hold him while UW's Isaiah Thomas set up 3-pointers from and hit a three to contribute to the overtime effort.
After spending last night celebrating Washington Huskies guard Isaiah Thomas' evolution as a distributor, today he's back to leading his team as a scorer with 19 points, including 3-for-4 3-point shooting against Arizona Wildcats in the Pac-10 Tournament Finals.
Nevertheless, a more well-rounded effort from the Wildcats has led them to take a slim 36-33 lead at halftime.
Arizona is shooting close to 50 percent from the field with seven players between three and seven points although star forward Derrick Williams is leading the way as perhaps would be expected. Jamelle Horne and Jesse Perry each have six with Perry and Williams tied with a game-high four rebounds.
Ultimately, that comparative balance has been a major statistical difference thus far: while the scoring load has been distributed pretty evenly for Arizona, Washington has relied heavily on Thomas with three starters finishing the half scoreless and Scott Suggs coming off the bench to add five points.
Although fans' memories of the Washington Huskies' loss to the Arizona Wildcats in Tuscon might be shaped by the fact that it came in the midst of a late-season downturn, it's hard to establish much separation between today's two title contenders based on that game alone.
And if we were to look strictly at head-to-head battles this season, one could even suggest that UW even has an edge: having beaten Arizona by 17 at home, they're at a +16 advantage in the season series.
But honestly, if we've learned anything about his Huskies team in the 2011 Pac-10 Tournament it's that how they show up today matters more than what they did in the past or even perhaps last game.
A lapse in defensive intensity, even for the amount of time that it happened in the second half against Oregon, could quite easily lead to a missed opportunity to end the season on a high note.
And all eyes should not only be on Arizona star Derrick Williams today, but also UW forward Matthew Bryan-Amaning. Mike Schmitz of SBN's Arizona Desert Swarm writes that "interior defense is public enemy No. 1" for Arizona and that it took double teams to rattle USC's post presence.
Arizona 67, USC 62 -- Moral victories - Arizona Desert Swarm
As for the Williams-Vucevic battle, Arizona's star wasn't extraordinary, but he edged his Pac-10 foe in the scoring department and finished with 20 points on 7-of-10 shooting. Vucevic did, however, rack up his 21st double-double of the season while Williams gave up a handful of offensive rebounds -- Vucevic and Alex Stepheson combined for seven offensive boards.
Arizona threw constant double-teams at Vucevic and he struggled handling the pressure until late in the game. The Wildcats certainly didn't make a statement with a blowout victory, but they came up with the necessary plays to win the game.
If Bryan-Amaning can handle similar pressure inside - or better yet, demand it - Washington's chances will improve greatly.
After briefly mounting a double digit lead, UW's defensive focus that had been so strong in the first half wavered and the lead dwindled to as little as four points.
Unfortunately, the grueling schedule of the conference tournament seemed to catch up to the Ducks as their shots started to clank off the front rim and failed to sustain any momentum during the Huskies' lapse.
Then with 3:58 left, C.J. Wilcox was fouled in the act of hitting a 3-pointer from the corner and hit the ensuing free throw to put the Huskies up 61-47 to seemingly end whatever hopes Oregon had for a comeback.
Although this seems to be a return to concerns earlier in the season about putting together consistent 40 minute performances, witnessing a performance that resembles anything close to what we saw from the Huskies earlier this season has to be somewhat refreshing for Huskies fans.
As a nice touch to symbolize how important UW guard Isaiah Thomas is to this team even without scoring, he tied the Pac-10 tournament record for assists with 12 to go along with 10 points on a poor shooting night. With Thomas cold from the field, underclassmen Wilcox and Terrence Ross stepped up to combine for 21 points on 10-for-21 shooting, with Ross punctuating the win with a beautiful around-the-back dribble and dunk late in the game.
Ross also continued to show signs of growth with three assists and a steal that came from good help position and a nice read of a pass through a small gap in the defense. Darnell Gant finished one bucket shy of a double-double with a game-high 10 rebounds and eight points. Also noteworthy is that after grabbing only one rebound in the first half, Matthew Bryan-Amaning got big with six in the second half.
Leading Oregon's second half effort was Joevan Catron, who finished with 18 points and nine rebounds. But after picking up his fourth foul with 8:21 left in the game and the Ducks down five, the Huskies went on an 8 to 2 run that gave them enough of a cushion to advance to the Pac-10 Tournament championship game against Arizona tomorrow afternoon and solidify their place in the 2011 NCAA Tournament.
The Washington Huskies' 30-21 halftime lead isn't quite as impressive as how they got it.
All season, UW coach Lorenzo Romar has had to entertain questions about using zone defense more than he typically has during his career.
There were questions about how hard the adjustment was for players. Questions about whether the zone minimized their defensive intensity. Questions about whether the zone was responsible for their three-game mid-season losing streak.
If there was trouble, people have latched onto the zone defense as the culprit.
Thankfully, Romar has been the coach during that time, not public opinion.
Ever the teacher, Romar has maintained that slowly implementing the zone over the course of the season could be a useful defensive tactic in certain scenarios, particularly with the addition of 7-foot center Aziz N'Diaye this season.
Tonight's game against the Oregon Ducks was one such scenario where Romar was able to use the zone in order to keep the opponent off-balance and contain a post player that could give them trouble. It worked extremely well in the latter portion of the first half to limit a previously hot Ducks offense and hold them to 34.6 percent shooting from the field. And despite Washington shooting only 41.7 percent from the field, the Huskies' defense has been the difference in the game. Nobody wearing a green uniform scored more than five points or hit more than two shots while the team shot 2-for-10 from beyond the arc.
Meanwhile, the Huskies have gotten contributions from across the roster to build their lead. Darnell Gant helped defensively with a game-high six rebounds (all defensive) and added six points. Scott Suggs came off the bench to score a game-high 8 points on 3-for-3 shooting. And Isaiah Thomas had six points despite only shooting 1-for-5 had but more importantly had a game-high five assists, which matched the number for the entire Ducks squad.
Put simply, the Ducks rely heavily on ball movement to succeed and the Huskies' length in the zone concept denied that.
When keyed in - particularly on the defensive end - UW can be difficult to stop and they should be able to establish a rebounding advantage against the UO with said focus.
But possibly the bigger story than UW's confidence-building win against WSU is UO's improved play over the last three games, including an eight point loss to Arizona: the Ducks have been shooting the ball much better than average.
Over the past three games, the Ducks have shot 49.6 percent from the field, which is 7.5 percent better than they've been shooting for the season overall. Even more interesting than the outcome is how they're doing it. Over the past three games, they've found their touch from the 3-point line, connecting on 44.6 percent primarily on the strength of an 11-for-19 (a season-high 57.9 percent) outburst against Arizona State in the first round of the 2011 Pac-10 Tournament. However, when they're not hitting more than half of their 3-pointers, they've been more efficient from inside the arc with a 61.7 percent 2-point percentage against Arizona, which is about 15 percent above average.
The improved 3-point shooting can most readily be traced to Malcolm Armstead and E.J. Singler who have combined to shoot 9-for-10 from downtown in the Pac-10 Tournament. Neither of those two hit a three against Arizona, but then Joevan Catron - who only hit four threes all of last season - went 4-for-7 while Teondre Williams chipped in going 2-for-2.
In other words, they've suddenly gotten three point contributions from all multiple sources, they're finding multiple ways to score, and their offense is becoming a bit more fluid as a result.
Continuing a rollercoaster 2010-11 season, coming back to beat the rival Washington State Cougars and then drawing the seventh-seeded Oregon Ducks had to seem like an almost jarring shift in fortunes for the the Washington Huskies.
At first glance, this not only seems like an opportunity for UW to avenge one a 81-76 road loss to the UO - easily one of this season's lowest points - but also like a much easier path to the 2011 Pac-10 Tournament championship game and a shot at redeeming themselves and the season with an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
However, beating the Ducks isn't necessarily a given - SBN's Addicted To Quack claims that they're playing some of their best basketball of the season right now and that as much as the Huskies might be motivated to rebuild their confidence heading into the tournament the Ducks are motivated by a chance to be rewarded for their improvement over the course of the season with a trip to the CBI or a shot at the automatic bid themselves.
Ducks need to win tonight to ensure good news on Sunday - Addicted To Quack
I think the Ducks are an attractive team for the CBI. After starting out slow, they've played some stretches of very good basketball, are a fun team to watch, and are a team that is on the upswing after two seasons of terrible performances. Duck fans are excited about the direction of the team, and fan interest will be high. On top of that, the Oregon athletic department is willing to buy their way into the CBI, which is just as important as having a good record. Add the new arena on top of that, and you've got a team with a lot going for it. While the Ducks could sneak into the postseason without a win tonight, beating the Huskies would go a long ways towards continuing the season.
Even shorthanded, the Huskies should be considered the more talented of these two teams. But if we've learned anything from this season is that their lapses in focus that have chipped away at their confidence can lead them to drop games that they should win.
So UW coach Lorenzo Romar's quote that The News Tribune's Don Ruiz posted on his blog about the game isn't really just a empty coachspeak - it's really actually a substantive key to this game for the Huskies.
UW Huskies Insider - " Another rival awaits Huskies today: Oregon The News Tribune Blogs, Tacoma, WA
"They're a tough team to play against," Romar said. "That is a true team in every sense of the word. They play well together. They play hard. They play with a lot of intensity. It's going to be a tough ballgame for us. We need to come ready to play, because I know they will."
Just like the WSU game last night, this game isn't really about deep analysis or statistical advantages - as fluffy as it sounds, it really is about UW's mental approach and ability to maintain focus in their quest for the tournament.
There were obviously a number of reasons why the Washington Huskies' 89-87 win over Washington State last night was important.
First, they avoided a three-game sweep to their cross-state rival, which would only have intensified the bitter taste of a disappointing season to go along with the anxiety of sitting around wondering about their fate come Selection Sunday.
Second, the win no doubt strengthens their chances for a tournament bid and possibly even a half-reasonable seed on Selection Sunday. A loss would have definitely cast a shadow of doubt over that and since it didn't happen we won't bother to examine the magnitude of that shadow.
But third, with all of that on the line making this arguably the most important game of their season, this team just needed to know they could rise to the occasion. And they did.
UW overcomes Thompson's 43 points for WSU | Northwest News - The News Tribune
The 5-foot-9 All-Pac-10 performer shredded the WSU zone with the dribble, getting under the guards, drawing bigs and serving Matthew Bryan-Amaning bucket after bucket. The 6-9 Amaning, who had 20 points combined in the first two games, put in 16, complementing the outside shooting of freshmen Terrence Ross (17) and C.J. Wilcox (16).
That they did so without the services of guard Venoy Overton, who's serving a suspension, makes this easily the strongest win of the season, all RPI resume-blather aside, especially given Klay Thompson's outburst described by Brian Floyd.
Pac-10 Tournament 2011 Bracket Update: Klay Thompson Sets Pac-10 Record, Washington Moves On - SB Nation Seattle
Klay Thompson gave it all he could for the Washington State Cougars on Thursday night, but the Washington Huskies had just enough in the tank to squeak by in an 89-87 win at Staples Center. Thompson set a new Pac-10 Tournament scoring record, finishing with 43 of the Cougars 89 points.
They talked about how they needed to come together earlier in the week and they managed to do so with the odds against them from the start, standing more strongly against them after Matthew Bryan-Amaning got in early foul trouble, and seemingly continued to swing out of their favor with Thompson on fire.
And although people will continue to inexplicably question point guard Isaiah Thomas, his skill as a lead ball handler, his leadership abilities, and his general worthiness of a D1 scholarship, he stepped up as big as anyone on a night when the team needed their best from a shortened rotation.
Husky Men's Basketball Blog | Romar: "We needed this to feel good about ourselves" | Seattle Times Newspaper
And finally, Isaiah Thomas was simply amazing. He never left the floor, playing 40 minutes for the first time in his career. Thomas led UW with 21 points and 11 assists, which was one shy of the tournament record.
Although a loss to seven seed Oregon would unquestionably be something of a letdown, last night's game has to restore some measure of confidence to a team that was sorely lacking it in words, body language, and action on the court as of late.
Already down a player with the suspension of guard Venoy Overton, the Washington Huskies' hopes of finally figuring out a way to beat Washington State this season weren't helped by forward Matthew Bryan-Amaning picking up two quick fouls.
With Bryan-Amaning out, UW probably didn't rebound as well as they liked losing that battle 18 to 16 in the first half, but perhaps another reason they found themselves down 40-32 at the end of the first half was that they didn't force the type of turnovers they normally thrive on.
Meanwhile, Klay Thompson was as good as you could possibly have expected finishing the half with 18 points and to go with a team-high four rebounds. DeAngelo Casto added eight points, five rebounds and three assists to no turnovers. Faisal Aden also contributed eight points.
For Washington, Terrence Ross was outstanding in the first start of his career with 13 points on 5-for-7 shooting.
Good news for the...
Good news for the Huskies as Justin Holiday has been cleared to play tonight against WSU. He and his teammates looked sharp today at shootaround.
After being mired in so much bad news, this is at least a brief moment of relief and there's probably little need to explain the implications of this announcement.
First, with guard Venoy Overton already suspended for the 2011 Pac-10 Tournament, the Huskies couldn't afford to lose another player at the top of their rotation.
Second, Holiday is a key defender who will be responsible for stopping Washington State star Klay Thompson tonight, to the extent possible.
Third, as one of the team's better 3-point shooters (39.2 percent) a team that is struggling to hit shots absolutely needs as many of their top shooters on the floor as possible.
With Washington Huskies guard Venoy Overton suspended for the 2011 Pac-10 Tournament - and Justin Holiday hopefully not out for tonight's game - it's obvious that tonight's game against the Washington State Cougars will depend heavily on their mindset as opposed to any statistics or pre-existing evidence.
Venoy Overton Suspended For The 2011 Pac-10 Tournament - SB Nation Seattle
"I know guys love their teammate and they know they're going to go to battle without him on the floor," said Romar. "That'll make it tough, but we have to go on."
You have to figure that UW can't possibly shoot as poorly as they did at home against WSU (22.2 percent) or turn the ball over as often as they did in Pullman (24 times, 14 in the second half).
Other than that? One might figure that either the Huskies will look at this as an underdog situation and band together or fold under the pressure of a rather disappointing season - it's difficult to imagine anything in between.
"You gotta respond positive," said UW guard Isaiah Thomas, who may now have to play 40 minutes to take care of ballhandling duties. "Our backs are against the wall, once again. (Abdul) Gaddy went down. Tyrese (Breshers) went down. It's been a rough season."
And that's probably all we say with confidence about this game. But there are three key questions that will need to be answered as well.
With Overton out, it's unfathomable that freshman guard Terrence Ross will not play again as he did against USC. But given the surprise of him not playing against USC, it's difficult to know how those minutes will be filled. Obviously, C.J. Wilcox is an option, but as a freshman shooter - with beautiful mechanics, for whatever it's worth - it's difficult to know if his shot will be falling. If not, Scott Suggs has been playing well recently and can defend reasonably well. And of course, Ross has had his moments.
In addition to missing Overton's defensive intensity on the perimeter, the Huskies' rotation obviously becomes shorter without him. So the question becomes whether it's in their best interest to get out and pressure the Cougars aggressively as they might usually do. On the one hand, you don't want the players to get worn down doing something that might not be at its peak effectiveness anyway. On the other hand, it's quite clear this team that this team feeds off of their defense - limiting that might not be in their best interest.
Both Matthew Bryan-Amaning and Isaiah Thomas have commented that they've felt they're thinking too much on the court, as in looking over to the for guidance on offense.
"You just gotta go back to what's worked," said Thomas when asked when how the team would overcome this problem of thinking too much. "You can't overthink for when teams adjust to you because teams are going to adjust and try to do whatever they can to find your weaknesses and slow you down. And with us, teams don't want us to get out in transition. But we've gotta - no matter what teams try to do - we gotta counter that and get in transition and push the ball and not just look to coach for things.
"I'm basically the coach out there when I'm on the floor because I'm the point guard on the team and, like I said, just the last couple games, all of February, it's been so up and down with me, that I think it's rubbed off on the team. So I just gotta have a positive attitude, go out, have fun, and see where that takes us."