The series of events that would underline the Huskies' pulling away in an 85-68 victory began with Gant forcing a bad pass inside to Aziz N'Diaye, resulting in a turnover. But instead of sulking and lazily getting back on defense, Gant hustled to the other end and blocked a Kevin Parrom shot...which was then kept inbounds by a diving Thomas. Wait for one of the premier point guards in America to get back into play...give him the ball and watch him go to work. "Work" on this play meant finding an open Gant on the left elbow, and the three-pointer that ended the series gave Washington a 59-50 lead with 11:22 remaining in the game. From that point on Arizona could get no closer than five points, with Washington outscoring them 24-12 after the Wildcats made it 61-56 on a Derrick Williams layup at the 9:33 mark.
"I knew the ball was right there and I was going to do whatever I could to get that," said Thomas of his hustle play. "And we got it and Darnell knocked down a big three and that kind of changed the momentum to our side and we just kept the lead. That was a big shot by Darnell. I've been on him this whole week, you have to knock these open shots down, and he did."
Williams led the Wildcats with 22 points and 11 rebounds but despite that line (8-15 FG) there were issues in regards to the switching defenses that Lorenzo Romar and his staff employed. The key for Arizona, both in Seattle and the remainder of the season, is the ability of the "supporting cast" to step up and provide consistent backup for Williams. Solomon Hill added 12 points while Momo Jones scored 10 but overall players not named Derrick Williams shot 16-for-45 from the field. That didn't get it done last night and it won't get it done in March either. But for much of the game the young Wildcats were able to hang around, with the mastery of Thomas being the difference in the end.
"[Thomas] getting to the middle really hurt our team," said Hill of Thomas' performance. "When he did get to the middle we collapsed and he passed it for the open three, and when we didn't help he was able to score or get to the line. He had 22 and 10 [assists]. He was really the man for them tonight."
The best part of Thomas' showing was that he finished with just one turnover on the night. With point guard Abdul Gaddy going down a couple weeks ago the senior has taken on the responsibility of running the show in impeccable fashion, continuing to score (albeit at a more efficient rate) while improving his ability to get the likes of Justin Holiday (22 points) and Matthew Bryan-Amaning (18 points, seven rebounds) more involved in the scoring. Thanks in large part to Thomas the Huskies cemented themselves as the favorite in the Pac-10, and the "raise the roof" phenomenon has returned as well. Given the number of overall weapons that Coach Romar's team has, a return to the Sweet 16 (and maybe more) is well within their reach. (quotes courtesy of Washington Athletics)
Other Notable Happenings
1. Virginia Tech gets a great performance from Erick Green and beats Maryland.
The play of point guard Erick Green has improved since his move to the starting lineup, and Thursday night's performance showed just how important he can be as Seth Greenberg's depleted team tries to grab that elusive NCAA Tournament bid. Green scored a career-high 24 points while also accounting for four steals and two assists in the 74-57 Virginia Tech victory, moving the Hokies to 3-2 in the ACC while Maryland drops to 1-3 in ACC play. Malcolm Delaney scored 19 while dishing out seven assists and Victor Davila added 13 points in a crucial win for a team that's been hammered by the injury bug this season. Jordan Williams posted yet another double-double for Maryland with 11 points and 11 rebounds (breaking Len Elmore's school record of 12 straight double-doubles), but for a player of his quality to only get ten shots speaks to either of two things: Virginia Tech absolutely swarming him, or his teammates did a poor job of getting the best big man in the ACC the basketball. "He's not like a guard, you have to get the ball to the inside player," said Maryland head coach Gary Williams. "We didn't look inside very well. We missed looks that we shouldn't be missing at this point (quote courtesy of Maryland Athletics)." The Virginia Tech victory keeps the Hokies out of the spot that Maryland now finds themselves in: having to face the prospect of needing to jump so many team in the similar position of needing wins to grab an NCAA berth. And in the wild ACC that's the one thing you want to avoid.
2. Long Island and Wagner make statements in the NEC race.
Third place to eleventh in the NEC standings has a separation of just two games, and with only the top eight teams earning spots in the conference tournament, only six of those teams can play in March (Bryant is one of those eight teams but with them being ineligible for the NCAA Tournament until 2012-13 (provisional Division I member) a spot opens). That makes it all the more important to remain above the fray, something accomplished by both Long Island and Wagner last night. LIU (6-1 NEC) was impressive in the second half, going on a 14-2 run to put away defending conference champion Robert Morris 83-67 in Moon Township. Michael Culpo led five Blackbirds in double figures with 19 points, and the win is their sixth straight in NEC play. The last time LIU did that: 1997-98, when Charles Jones and company ended up in the NCAA Tournament. And how about the job Dan Hurley has done at Wagner? The Seahawks moved to 5-2 in conference play with a 90-80 win over defending regular season co-champ Quinnipiac on Staten Island, with freshman Latif Rivers putting on a show with 30 points and four assists. Wagner also had five players in double figures against a Bobcat squad that clearly misses preseason player of the year Justin Rutty (injury). But in a league that's been more than open the entire season a step above the rest is a very good spot for both LIU and Wagner to be in right now.
3. Santa Clara knocks off Gonzaga to hand Bulldogs first WCC loss.
To say the least these Gonzaga Bulldogs aren't on the same level of prior squads who made the WCC their personal playground in years past. But that doesn't automatically have to be seen as a negative, as another consequence of Gonzaga's run (one that's been overlooked by many) is that their excellence has challenged the other schools in the conference to improve their programs in order to simply keep pace. Saint Mary's has displayed staying power and San Diego had their run from the mid to late portion of the last decade. Could Kerry Keating have Santa Clara headed in the same direction? Thursday night's 85-71 win over the Bulldogs would be a nice first step if that's indeed the case, with Kevin Foster going off for the home team. Foster made 11 of 20 shots from the field (6-14 3PT, 8-10 FT) in scoring 36 points and all five Santa Clara starters reached double figures in the win. Steven Gray (17 points) and Robert Sacre (16) led the way for Gonzaga but with Elias Harris netting just six points they were in trouble, not to mention 18 turnovers and Santa Clara shooting 17-for-29 (58.6%) from two-point range. While the immediate action will be to forecast doom for Mark Few's team they're still going to win their fair share of games the rest of the way and likely end up in the NCAA Tournament. But the bigger statement may have been that another team was able to challenge the Bulldogs and ultimately win, which is a good thing for the WCC (and BYU arrives next year, which should make the conference even stronger as a whole).
Top Three Games
1. UCLA 86, California 84 A Reeves Nelson tip-in at the buzzer was the difference in Los Angeles last night. He and Lazeric Jones led the Bruins with 24 points apiece (career-high for Nelson) while Harper Kamp led the Golden Bears with 21. An Allen Crabbe three with 10 seconds remaining tied the game at 84, setting the stage for Nelson's heroics.
2. Utah Valley 107, North Dakota 96 (4 OT) Three Wolverines established career-highs in scoring while another did so in rebounds as Utah Valley moved to 2-0 in the Great West. The scorers: Isiah Williams (30), Jordan Swarbrick (24) and Ben Aird (23); and Geddes Robinson grabbed 17 rebounds for Utah Valley. Six players for North Dakota reached double figures with Aaron Anderson's 19 leading the way, and Brandon Brekke grabbed 15 boards in defeat.
3. UMKC 85, IUPUI 77 (2 OT) Spencer Johnson provided the heroics for the Kangaroos, knocking down game-tying three pointers at the end of both regulation and the first overtime to keep UMKC alive. They then outscored the Jaguars by 8 in the second overtime to move to 4-4 in the Summit League. Jay Couisnard led the way with 27 points and 12 rebounds while Alex Young led IUPUI with 32 (career-high) and 10 boards.
Three Notable Performances
1. G Isaiah Thomas (Washington) 22 points, 10 assists and six rebounds in the Huskies' 85-68 win over Arizona.
2. F Ken Horton (Central Connecticut State) 28 points and 14 rebounds in the Blue Devils' 66-47 win at Monmouth.
3. G Jordan Swarbrick (Utah Valley) 24 points, nine rebound and nine assists in the Wolverines' 107-96 four-overtime win at North Dakota.