SEATTLE (AP) — For all the stats Isaiah Thomas filled up yet again, the moment everyone will remember from Thursday night has no category.
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Just a lot of hustle, and one pretty good baseball slide by Washington’s star guard that nearly sent him out of the gym.
“It was like football and baseball. I slid quite a ways,” Thomas said.
Thomas scored 22 points, handed out 10 assists and grabbed six rebounds, and No. 20 Washington took sole possession of first place in the Pac-10 with a 85-68 win over Arizona on Thursday night.
Thomas pumped his fists with every assist in the closing minutes, raising his arm to the sky when Justin Holiday’s 3-pointer with 8 seconds left swished for Thomas’ second straight double-double. Thomas had his highlight moments, not many better than his two one-handed lob passes to Matthew Bryan-Amaning and Venoy Overton for dunks in the first half.
“Isaiah Thomas, it’s not even close, there’s not one player in the country who’s more disrespected across the nation than him. Not one. It’s not even close,” Arizona coach Sean Miller raved. “If he’s not one of the top four or five point guards in the country, then I’m going to tell you I want to invite these guys who vote to come and watch film.”
Holiday also scored 22 points, making his first five shots and knocking down a pair of 3-pointers for the Huskies (14-4, 6-1 Pac-10). Bryan-Amaning scored 14 of his 18 in the second half, including 10 in the first 5:08 of the half.
Arizona star Derrick Williams scored 22 points and grabbed 11 rebounds but was mostly invisible the final 7 minutes. After converting a three-point play with 6:42 remaining, Williams went scoreless the rest of the way. The Wildcats (15-4, 4-2) were outscored 20-9 during that stretch.
But the lasting memory from Washington’s fourth straight win over Arizona in Seattle came with about 11 minutes left when Thomas made a headfirst leap out of bounds to save a loose ball.
With Washington holding a six-point lead and unable to shake the Wildcats, Darnell Gant threw an awful pass for Aziz N’Diaye in the post that was intercepted. Arizona raced into front court but a hustling Gant hurried back to block Kevin Parrom’s driving attempt.
As the ball bounced toward the Arizona bench, Thomas went flying to save it, sliding about 15-feet off the floor into an exit tunnel. Thomas’ fling found the arms of N’Diaye who waited for Thomas to bounce up. He dribbled into front court, drew the defense and found Gant for an open 3 and a 59-50 Washington lead with 11:15 remaining.
“I was almost back to the door,” Thomas said. “I didn’t know it went to Aziz. I was just trying to hustle up and get back into the play.”
“That was big … that kind of changed the momentum for our side.”
Thomas will continue to have a hard time matching the performance he put on last Sunday night at California when he finished with 27 points and 13 assists. But of all of Thomas’ stats from beating Arizona, committing just one turnover might be the most impressive.
“We’ll take that,” Washington coach Lorenzo Romar deadpanned.
Thomas will wake up with plenty of floor burns to show for his effort — he was pointing out a few to Romar as he left the postgame interviews. Since starting point guard Abdul Gaddy was lost for the season to a torn ACL in the first week of January, Thomas has firmly taken over operating the Huskies attack.
“They’re playing kind of a different style. When he has the ball in his hands, a lot of bad things happen for you,” Miller said of Thomas. “I really believe this, he deserves mention among that elite group of college basketball point guards because that’s what he is.”
Williams’ late disappearance was partly due to foul trouble after Williams picked up his fourth foul with 10 minutes remaining. IT was also a stark contrast from the opening moments of the second half when Williams scored five straight and Lamont Jones’ layup off a turnover gave Arizona its first lead since it was 8-6 in the opening minutes. That lead lasted all of 18 seconds as Bryan-Amaning responded with a dunk and Arizona never got closer than one point.
Washington also effectively used a zone defense to try and keep Williams contained inside. Solomon Hill added 12 points and Jones finished with 10 for the Wildcats.
“The zone, I struggled a little bit,” Williams said. “They kind of had one guy either behind me or in front of me so I couldn’t get a pass.”