Last week, University of Washington men's basketball players C.J. Wilcox and Justin Holiday became the hot topics after registering career-high point totals.
Meanwhile, junior guard Isaiah Thomas contributed back-to-back games of 19 and 16 points with relatively little notice. And when Thomas takes the court tonight against Portland, he will do so for the first time this season as the team’s scoring leader.
Through the early part of this season, that title had been held by senior forward Matthew Bryan-Amaning. Then on Tuesday against Long Beach State, the spotlight shifted to the freshman Wilcox, who broke out with a career-high 20 points. Then on Saturday, senior Holiday got the attention with a career-high 20 against Texas Tech.
However, Thomas – who scored more points over his first two seasons than any other Huskies player – has been chugging away with steady offensive contributions ranging from nine to 19 points in every game this season.
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They have added up to a team-high average of 15 points a game, one-tenth of a point ahead of Bryan-Amaning.
Thomas also ranks second in assists, and even fourth in rebounds, despite being the shortest player on the roster at 5-foot-8.
After making only 44.3 percent of his free throws over his first six games, Thomas promised to improve. And in the Saturday win over Tech, he went 6-for-6.
“I’m proud of him,” coach Lorenzo Romar said. “Even his minutes. There were times (in previous seasons) when he didn’t play 40 minutes, he was ready to quit. At this time – early in the year, the games, a lot of them have been wide margins – he hasn’t played as much, and he’s not complained and has just gone out every day wanting to get better, wanting to find out how to make this team better. I think that’s great.”
Thomas showed that his junior season might be different, starting with the Huskies’ first public appearance. In an exhibition against Division II Saint Martin’s, Thomas put up only two shots – sinking both – while distributing 11 assists.
“My first two years, defenses have been trying to stop me anyway – and my whole life it’s been like that,” he said after the win over Saint Martin’s. “I just make basketball plays and just play. I’m not going to focus on, like, ‘OK, I need to get 10 assists this game’ or ‘I need to score 30 points this game.’ It’s just going out there and being efficient and doing the right thing.”
Romar sees it as a sign of maturity and leadership in a season when Thomas is a Huskies co-captain along with Holiday.
“I think it’s a great combination,” Romar said. “Isaiah is more of the brash extroverted type of leader. Where Justin is extroverted also, but he’s a lot more methodical in his leadership approach.”
UW MEN’S BASKETBALL GAMEDAY
PORTLAND (7-2) AT NO. 23 WASHINGTON (5-2)
TIPOFF: 7 p.m., Hec Edmundson Pavilion.
TV: FSN. Radio: 950-AM
Series: Washington leads 12-2 overall and 7-0 at home. Last season, the Huskies won, 111-55.
Statistical leaders: For Portland – Jarred Stohl, 15 ppg; Luke Sikma, 11.7 rpg; Eric Waterford, 3.2 apg. For UW – Isaiah Thomas, 15 ppg; Justin Holiday, 6.9 rpg; Venoy Overton, 4.7 apg.
SCOUTING REPORT: The teams have one common opponent: Kentucky, which beat Portland, 79-48, and defeated UW, 74-67. ... The Pilots come in on a three-game winning streak, including a 58-54 victory at Montana on Friday. UW has won back-to-back games, most recently 108-79 over Texas Tech on Saturday. ... Sikma is a senior from Bellevue and the son of former Seattle SuperSonic Jack Sikma. Stohl is a senior guard from Marysville, and is shooting 50 percent from the field and 96.2 percent on free throws. He was honored as West Coast Conference player of the week in late November after scoring a season-high 26 points vs. UC Santa Barbara and 21 vs. Washington State. ... There are two other Washingtonians on the Pilots’ roster: freshman guard Tanner Riley of North Bend and freshman forward Ryan Nicholas of Spokane. ... All Huskies are expected to be available tonight.
Next: 1:30 p.m. Saturday, at Texas A&M, College Station, Texas.
Don Ruiz, staff writer