Washington's date with Arizona tonight not only brings together the two top-ranked teams in the Pacific-10 Conference, but perhaps also the two leading contenders for the Pac-10 player of the year award.
Those would be UW junior guard Isaiah Thomas and Wildcats forward Derrick Williams.
Williams ranks second in the conference in scoring, while Thomas is third. Both trail Washington State’s Klay Thompson, who fills out what is generally considered a three-player MVP race.
Washington will get a look at Thompson and the Cougars before this month is out.
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But with the league’s attention largely directed at Hec Edmundson Pavilion tonight, UW coach Lorenzo Romar was asked if he thinks it’s a Thomas-Williams race.
“That, I don’t know,” he said. “I know those guys certainly have been very valuable to their teams. What Isaiah has been doing is really remarkable. A lot of people talk about his scoring. And now his assists – with him leading the league and averaging slightly over eight in conference play – but you still don’t see the intangible of his leadership, his will to win, his ability to defend, to go in and rebound at his size. So you’re talking about guys who bring a lot to their team. Obviously, Derrick Williams does, but I know Isaiah Thomas certainly does as well.”
Thomas is a 5-foot-9 junior guard from Tacoma who averages 16.5 point, a league-leading 5.4 assists per game, and 8.2 assists since the start of conference play. He has been named Pac-10 player of the week once.
Williams is a 6-8 sophomore forward who averages 19.7 points and ranks seventh in the league with 7.3 rebounds per game. He has taken at least 113 more free throws than any other league player – almost three times more than his closest competition. And he has hit 71 percent of his 3-point field goal attempts, although his 17 makes in 24 tries is too few to qualify for the league rankings. He has been named Pac-10 player of the week twice.
Romar praised Williams at considerable length this week, saying he ranks among the toughest coverage challenges since Arizona State’s Ike Diogu from 2002-05.
Williams is quick, strong and explosive, Arizona coach Sean Miller said, and equally adept around the basket with either hand.
But like Romar, Miller is extravagant in his praise of both players.
“(Thomas) deserves to be put in the category of the nation’s best point guards,” Miller said. “He isn’t getting one-tenth of the credit that he deserves in that category, because he is a true point guard. He leads our conference in assists. He means as much to Washington on the offensive end as probably Derrick Williams means to us on the offensive end. He just makes the game easy for his offensive teammates. And what he’s always done – his ability to score – he continues to do it.”
For his part, Thomas said this season’s player of the year award will go to the best player on the conference champion – as it did last season when Jerome Randle of California was honored.
For that reason – and a more practical one – Thomas downplays the game tonight as a Thomas-versus-Williams matchup.
“He definitely don’t want to guard me, and I don’t want to guard him,” Thomas said. “So, it’s not going to be between me and him, it’s going to be the Huskies versus the Wildcats.”
ALASKA AIRLINES ARENA?
The Daily, the UW student newspaper, reported that the university’s Board of Regents will vote today on an Alaska Airlines corporate-naming proposal for the arena inside Hec Edmondson Pavilion. If approved, the Seattle-based airline would take over the naming rights once held by Bank of America, whose agreement with the school ended almost a year ago.
It would be Alaska’s second high-profile sports agreement in as many months. In December, the airline became the jersey sponsor of Major League Soccer’s new Portland Timbers.
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