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Originally published February 5, 2010 at 8:33 PM | Page modified February 5, 2010 at 11:44 PM

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UW's Thomas gets the coach's message

The star guard was benched to begin the second half against Arizona and will try to do "a better job."

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Before the start of the season, Lorenzo Romar dubbed Washington's three point guards — Isaiah Thomas, Venoy Overton and Abdul Gaddy — a trio of starters.

"Some of them just get to hear their name called at the beginning of the game," the UW coach said. "But in my mind, they're all starters."

Still, the distribution of starts has been far from equal.

While Overton and Gaddy shuffled in and out of the lineup, Thomas had been a mainstay until he was benched at the start of the second half of Thursday's 81-75 win against Arizona.

The decision to bench Thomas, UW's second-leading scorer, in favor of Overton, its defensive ace, sparked a second-half run that erased a six-point halftime deficit.

When asked the difference between halves after the game, reserve guard Scott Suggs said "a little selfish" describing a first half in which the Huskies missed 27 of 38 field goals, 9 of 10 three-pointers and committed nine turnovers.

"We got a little selfish, but I was going to say we got a little too satisfied with the success we were having," senior Quincy Pondexter said. "We just came out and wanted to do it ourselves. We didn't have the team aspect in mind."

Romar explained before Friday's practice his reasoning for using Overton instead of Thomas.

"We just didn't get it (the basketball) moving the way we wanted to get it moving," he said. "I thought the first half offensively was very similar ... (to) how we play on the road offensively sometimes, where that ball just doesn't quite get moving.

"Sometimes you can get away with it, but against a team like Arizona, USC and the teams that play good solid defense and pack it in... you got to have some ball movement. Reverse the ball and then you can go."

Romar intends to have Thomas in the starting lineup Saturday night when the Huskies (15-7, 5-5 Pac-10) host Arizona State (16-7, 6-4), seeking to avenge an early-season loss.

If Romar had ulterior motives behind Thomas' second-half benching and wanted to send a message to his star 5-foot-8 sophomore guard, it worked.

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"I got to do a better job of not just setting up my teammates, but getting easy buckets and making plays," said Thomas who is averaging 17.1 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.6 assists. "I'll try to do the best job I can to do it and if I'm not doing it right, Coach Romar is going to find the right person to do it."

On Thursday, the right person was Overton, whose defensive pressure and quick-dribble drives made life miserable for the slow-footed Wildcats.

When he wasn't forcing turnovers — the Wildcats had 20 — he was making them, Overton had four. At the end, the hyperactive Overton sank six straight free throws in the final 50 seconds to extend UW's home win streak to five.

"If Venoy is focused, the good always outweighs the bad," Romar said. "If he comes out and he's not focused, then it can go the other way."

Reinserting Thomas into the starting lineup should help the Huskies counter ASU's stingy matchup zone that held UW to season-low scoring in a 68-51 defeat on Jan. 8 at Wells Fargo Arena.

Thomas was the only Husky in double-figure scoring, finishing with 20 points on 6-for-15 shooting. He went to the free-throw line 11 times and converted seven.

"He is really, really strong-willed and tough-minded," Romar said. "He's capable of bouncing back from situations like this. I think he'll be fine."

Notes

• The fan ejected Thursday for throwing a half-empty water bottle on the court was a season-ticket holder who agreed to not attend any more games the rest of the season, a UW spokesman said. The school did not press charges and the fan apologized in an e-mail to athletic director Scott Woodward. UW will likely allow the fan to renew tickets next season.

• About 125 tickets remain for tonight's game against Arizona State. If it's a sellout, it would be UW's fifth this season.

Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or pallen@seattletimes.com

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