BERKELEY, Calif. -- 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.”
Even after a bumpy past couple of weeks, Washington still stands as the favorite to win the conference title, and for the most part has acted the part. In taking care of business and handing out a 92-71 beatdown of defending champion Cal on Sunday at Haas Pavilion, Thomas sent that message using a commanding 27-point, 13-assist performance.
“That was probably his greatest performance as a Husky,” Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said. “He was a band conductor. He orchestrated that game. He’s been playing like this since we started conference play.”
The Huskies (13-4, 5-1 Pac-10) needed this game not only to take sole possession of first place in the conference, but also to go home with a smile. This month, the team saw point guard Abdul Gaddy go down with a season-ending tear of his anterior cruciate ligament. And Tuesday, Romar was busy dealing with off-court issues while acknowledging at his weekly news conference that police are investigating allegations that he described as “serious” regarding an unnamed player.
That UW lost at Stanford on Thursday by allowing an 11-point second-half lead to slip away seemed to have the Huskies focused on Cal, which had beaten Washington in eight of the past 10 meetings in Berkeley.
“Our guys could not wait to play another game.” Romar said.
Thomas indicated the loss at Maples Pavilion ate at him during the days off as he had been called upon to take over at point guard with Gaddy needing surgery. With Romar starting Scott Suggs over Venoy Overton to go with a bigger lineup, the 5-foot-9 junior gained even more control of the offense.
He shot it well, scoring 18 by halftime and finishing with a season high in points. He also passed it off to his teammates, notching a career high in assists and enabling Justin Holiday and Matthew Bryan-Amaning to score 23 and 22 points, respectively.
“Another dimension of my game people say I don’t have,” Thomas said of his point-guard play. “I’m always out to prove people wrong. I told coach, ‘With the ball in my hands, I feel like I can make more plays.’”
The Huskies led by 15 at halftime, and in the locker room, Thomas urged Holiday to shoot the ball. “He said, ‘If I pass it to you, it’s for a reason,’” said Holiday, who had already been on the receiving end of an alley-oop pass.
Holiday responded with back-to-back 3-pointers to open the second half and essentially removed any doubts about the Huskies putting away the Bears, who have only eight available scholarship players.
Harper Kamp led California with 20 points, but the Bears were ultimately overwhelmed by the size of Bryan-Amaning (10 of 15 shooting, 11 rebounds) and the experience of Holiday (5-of-8 from 3-point range). The Huskies won the battle of the boards 43-27 and were able to get out on the break.
“You’re not going to beat anybody when you give up 92,” Cal coach Mike Montgomery said.
The Bears certainly aren’t the first opponent Washington has blown out, with the Huskies averaging a 19.5 scoring margin, and beloved walk-on Brendan Sherrer already surpassing his season high in games played with his 11th appearance on Sunday.
No, they didn’t get the result they wanted at the Maui Invitational, with losses to Kentucky and Michigan State. Their best wins have come against Portland, UCLA and USC.
But with Thomas playing inspired in the wake of Gaddy going down and continuing to come up with ways to prove himself further, it’s hard not to like UW’s chances in the Pac-10, even as its depth is being tested.
“It was a big one,” Romar said of the 21-point win. “With this, it keeps our momentum going.”