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Originally published January 20, 2011 at 11:07 PM | Page modified January 20, 2011 at 11:35 PM

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Steve Kelley

Hot Huskies are bursting with promise

On any given night, which is what the NCAA tournament is about, the 20th-ranked Huskies can beat any team in America. And in this show-me game against the 25th-ranked Wildcats, their relentless restlessness eventually drained the juice out of Arizona.

Seattle Times staff columnist

They are the toast of the Pac-10.

No doubt.

They are the most talented, most experienced, most versatile, deepest and most electrifying team in the conference.

In the eye of an Arizona second-half fast break, Washington's Darnell Gant blocked a Kevin Parrom shot that was rolling out of bounds toward the Arizona bench.

In a dead sprint, Isaiah Thomas beat the ball to the end line, dived like a base stealer to grab the ball and blindly flipped it behind him to Aziz N'Diaye before disappearing into the tunnel by the Arizona bench.

"He loves plays like that," Thomas said of his coach, Lorenzo Romar.

It will be remembered as this season's play of the year. And to put an exclamation point on the play, Thomas came back up the floor, drove and kicked to Gant for a three.

The expectant, frenzied, sold-out house exploded.

"A momentum-changer," Thomas called it.

The Huskies, who beat Arizona 85-68, play in these spectacular microbursts.

In the opening minutes, Thomas lobbed a pass to Matthew Bryan-Amaning soaring above the rim. Bryan-Amaning grabbed the ball and dunked the second Washington field goal of the night.

Later, reminiscent of a young Gary Payton, Thomas threw another lob off the dribble that Venoy Overton jammed home to the thundered appreciation of the Edmundson Pavilion crowd.

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It wasn't just good basketball, it was wildly entertaining hoops.

"You know me, I'm always trying to raise the roof," said Thomas, who had another pristine 22-point, 10-assist, one-turnover game. "You want all of the energy you can get. They (fans) help us play as hard as we can."

On Thursday night against Arizona, one of their few rivals for this season's conference championship, the Washington Huskies played in those fierce microbursts that have become signatures of Romar's nine-year term as head coach.

They turned defense into offense, and they shared their offensive wealth.

Justin Holiday, who also finished with 22 points, scored at the hoop and converted a free throw. Then he hit a jumper in Solomon Hill's face before dumping a pass down to Bryan-Amaning for a score.

Seven unanswered points in 70 seconds. Offense the Husky Way.

Later in the first half, Scott Suggs rained a trey that was followed by another three-point play from Holiday, two free throws from Thomas and the Overton dunk.

It was another run that put Washington ahead 30-20.

These Huskies are the best team in the conference. The best of the West. More talented than San Diego State. Better than Gonzaga.

They may stumble on the road against Arizona or Washington State, but it is highly unlikely the Huskies, who are 6-1 in the conference and 14-4 overall, will lose more than three conference games this season.

The Pac-10 is that down, and Washington is that good.

The Huskies' shooting may disappear for minutes in a game. They may get sloppy offensively for stretches. But their one constant will be their team defense. They held Arizona to 40 percent shooting from the floor.

"We really scrapped out there," Romar said.

On any given night, which is what the NCAA tournament is about, the 20th-ranked Huskies can beat any team in America. And in this show-me game against the 25th-ranked Wildcats, their relentless restlessness eventually drained the juice out of Arizona.

Thomas, the most complete player in the conference, broke a defender's ankle with a crossover dribble, got into the lane, scored and was fouled by Derrick Williams. Then he slipped a pass through a forest of arms to Holiday at the rim. Five points in 31 seconds, a second-half burst.

The first-place Huskies will win the Pac-10 Conference. Barring a shocking upset at Staples Center, they will win the Pac-10 tournament.

But this is a team with goals greater than the West and sweeter than the Sweet 16.

This team wants to go farther than any of Romar's Washington teams, past the round of 16 and perhaps flirt with the Final Four.

It is good enough to get there.

"We are progressing," Romar said after the win. "We're where we want to be in the standings, but in terms of realizing our potential, we're still a work in progress there."

Washington looks like a team that is happy with where it is and confident about where it can advance.

"There's always room for improvement," Holiday said. "I don't worry about where we can be. As long as we play the way we're supposed to play, things will be all right."

If they keep playing the way they did Thursday, things can be sweeter than 16 for Washington.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/

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About Steve Kelley

Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
skelley@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2176

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