Huskies' Isaiah Thomas blossoming as season progresses
Isaiah Thomas is UW's second-leading scorer, and he's playing with a broken bone in his shooting hand. Keep an eye on him.
Seattle Times staff reporter
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SYRACUSE, N.Y. — The bone-chilling wind that swept across the Syracuse University campus reminded Isaiah Thomas of days he'd rather forget.
"I can't stand the East Coast," he said flatly to a teammate inside the visiting Carrier Dome locker room. "Nah, I'm just kidding.
"But for real, I had a hard time out here."
Thomas, Washington's All-Pac-10 guard, spent two years at a prep school in Connecticut after starring at Curtis High in Tacoma.
During his days at South Kent School, Thomas squared off against a few players he'll see Thursday night when 11-seed Washington (26-9) faces No. 2 seed West Virginia (29-6) in the East Region semifinals.
"I played against Isaiah numerous accounts," said Devin Ebanks, WVU's third-team All-Big East forward. "It will be fun to play against him again.
"I kind of have a feel for what he likes to do, especially watching film the last couple of days."
The Mountaineers spoke in depth about Thomas' scoring prowess, but made little mention about recent playmaking ability.
"That's part of his game that gets overlooked," junior forward Justin Holiday said. "People know Isaiah can score 30 points if he wants to, but they tend to forget he can also make plays for everybody else."
In a pair of NCAA tournament wins last week, the UW's 5-foot-8 guard dished eight assists against Marquette and seven against New Mexico while scoring 19 and 15 points, respectively.
Thomas, Washington's second-leading scorer and averaging 17.1 points per game, sternly denied he's changed his approach.
"I'm still a scorer," he said. "If I need to score, then that's what I'll do. But I can also find my teammates and make the pass when it's there."
There was a time this season when his passing ability, shot selection and leadership were in doubt, and critics wondered if the Huskies were better with him on the bench.
It's a preposterous notion now, but in January it was a hot-button topic.
After a 7-for-21 shooting performance in consecutive losses to UCLA and USC, Thomas missed the next game because of a stomach virus and Washington's offense flourished in a 123-76 whipping against Seattle University.
Days later, Thomas was benched in the second half against Arizona when the Huskies trailed at the break. They came back and won 81-75 while Thomas watched from the sideline in a game where he scored seven points.
Coach Lorenzo Romar later explained he wasn't sending a message to Thomas, but acknowledged his sophomore star may have used the benching as motivation.
"Isaiah is a proud person, and he's a smart basketball player," Romar said. "He's going to figure it out. If defenses are taking something away, then he'll figure out how he can be effective."
Since the Arizona game, Thomas increased his assists per game from 2.1 to 4.8 and his assist-to-turnover ratio from 0.8 to 2.8.
He's also shooting better from the field (40.4 percent to 43.4 percent) and on three-pointers (24.5 percent to 32.3).
Romar said Thomas' improvements are astonishing considering he's not 100 percent healthy.
Thomas injured his left (shooting) hand Feb. 11 at California and has been told by a physician that he has a broken bone near his thumb. The injury has forced him to wear a padded glove during practice and he'll consider treatment once the season ends.
"He's a winner," freshman guard Abdul Gaddy said. "He does whatever it takes to win."
Against Marquette, the Huskies needed somebody to stop guard Darius Odom-Johnson, who torched UW for 13 first-half points.
During a timeout early in the second half, Thomas asked Romar if he could defend Odom-Johnson.
"I think after that (Odom-Johnson) scored two points," Romar said. "That's pretty special. That's doing whatever it takes."
Thomas isn't sure what it's going to take to defeat West Virginia, which will likely replace injured point guard Darryl "Truck" Bryant (broken foot) with junior Joe Mazzulla, who may make his first start.
But Thomas is certain about one thing.
"I'm going to do whatever I can to help my team get a win," he said.
Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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