Huskies' Isaiah Thomas not just scoring anymore

Huskies' Isaiah Thomas not just scoring anymore

Credit: Cliff Despeaux / Seattle Times

The Huskies paralyzed Long Beach State offense with a ballhawking defense that forced 12 turnovers in the first half for 14 points. Washington's Isaiah Thomas goes to the basket for two of his 19 points during the first half against Long Beach State on Tuesday night.

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by Associated Press

NWCN.com

Posted on January 19, 2011 at 8:40 PM

Updated Wednesday, Jan 19 at 8:40 PM

SEATTLE -- When Will Conroy and Isaiah Thomas finally connected on the phone, Conroy, the point guard who helped begin Washington's turnaround a half-decade ago, swore Thomas wasn't telling the truth.

Did Thomas really hand out 13 assists in No. 20 Washington's victory over California last Sunday night?

"He thought I was lying when I told him," Thomas recalled.

Oh, and don't forget the 27 points Thomas scored in one of the finest performances in recent Washington memory.

If Thomas wasn't already the front-runner for Pac-10 player of the year, then his effort in the Huskies' 92-71 victory likely put him in the lead.

It's all part of the continuing maturation of the diminutive 5-foot-9 junior guard, once known simply as a scorer, who is quickly morphing into the complete guard Washington coach Lorenzo Romar continually claimed Thomas was.

"What Isaiah has been doing is really remarkable," Romar said this week. "A lot of people talk about his scoring and now with his assists ... but you still don't see the intangibles of his leadership, his will to win, his ability to defend and go in and rebound at his size. He does so many things beyond scoring and now assisting."

Ask Thomas to score and he's pretty well versed in that, on pace to end his career at Washington (13-4, 5-1 Pac-10) as one of the top scorers in school history. Ask him to defend and Thomas has shown a commitment to defending since the middle of last season, when the Huskies finally found their stride.

And now, ask him to distribute and run the Huskies offense with guard Abdul Gaddy sidelined for the season with a torn ACL and Thomas is proving quite apt at filling the role of a true point guard.

Through six conference games, Thomas is leading the Pac-10 with more than eight assists per game. That's on top of the 17.8 points per game he's averaging in leading the Huskies to a 5-1 start in Pac-10 play.

And now comes Thursday night's matchup against Arizona with first place in the Pac-10 at stake.

"He deserves to be put in the category of the nation's best point guards. He isn't getting one-tenth of the credit that he deserves in that category," Arizona coach Sean Miller said. "He leads our conference in assists. He means as much to Washington on the offensive end as, probably, Derrick Williams means to us on the offensive end. He just makes the game easy for his teammates, and what he's always done with his ability to score, he just continues to do it."

For those who rarely see Washington on a national stage, the lasting image of Thomas from this season was him selfishly trying to force a game-winning shot attempt in the final seconds at Texas A&M, only to see the attempt slammed back to the floor while a teammate stood open on the wings.

At least for now, that image is gone, replaced by the surgery Thomas performed on California last Sunday night. After faltering at Stanford, then sitting around for nearly three full days before playing the Bears, Thomas erupted for 18 points in the first half. But it was his distributing that caught everyone's attention.

The 13 assists were the most since Conroy handed out 14 late in the 2005 season. Thomas was just the eighth Washington player to ever hand out 13 or more.

When Romar brought Thomas to Washington, he knew he was getting a dynamic scorer. The passing, that realization didn't arrive until after Thomas was on campus.

"I think it's maturation, no doubt maturation," Romar said. "The thing about what Isaiah is doing, the beauty of it is he's not scoring a whole lot less. He's still scoring. What you're seeing is pretty efficient basketball."

A year ago at this time, Romar's Huskies were bringing up the basement of the Pac-10, struggling to find roles and rotations. Some of the problems were solved when Thomas began relying more on his teammates and focusing on the defensive end. The changes ultimately helped Washington win the Pac-10 tournament title and reach the round of 16 in the NCAA tournament.

Right now, the Huskies are the class of the conference, with Thomas showing even more of what he can do.

"As of right now it's more fun to pass, see others happy, especially guys like Aziz (N'Diaye), and Matt (Bryan-Amaning) and our shooters on the wing," Thomas said. "I'm just glad to keep a smile on their face. As long as I'm seeing that and we're winning I'm good."

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