CHARLOTTE, N.C. - We'll never know what would have happened if Washington had called a timeout before the final possession last weekend against Arizona.
But we know how things turned out.
Isaiah Thomas dribbled upcourt, got just inside the 3-point arc and hit a fadeaway jumper at the buzzer to win in overtime for Washington.
The shot produced the Pacific-10 Conference tournament title and helped secure a No. 7 seeding in the NCAA tournament, which UW begins tonight against No. 10 Georgia.
It also produced a very busy week of multimedia congratulations for Thomas, a junior guard from Tacoma.
“It’s been crazy,” he said Thursday before practice at Time Warner Cable Arena. “Twitter, everything. New friends came along and things like that. But it’s a blessing. It’s a blessing that shot went down, but it’s been crazy.”
It may have seemed all the crazier because of how long it had been since this prolific scorer had made – or even taken – a game-deciding shot.
Thomas said there was no doubt during his days at Curtis High School that he would be entrusted with the last shot. But that has been a rare thing in college – even this season, when he has emerged as both leader and leading scorer.
“It is frustrating – especially when the ball doesn’t go in,” Thomas said. “You feel like you can help a little bit.”
It was redshirt freshman C.J. Wilcox who took the crucial shot against Kentucky at the Maui Invitational, and again at the end at Texas A&M. He missed each time. But it also was Wilcox who made a tying 3-pointer at the end of regulation against Arizona, which paved the way for Thomas’ heroics.
Coach Lorenzo Romar was asked about his late-game choices, and if perhaps he related to coach Norman Dale of the classic basketball movie “Hoosiers,” whose first instinct was use the element of surprise rather than his top scorer.
“You think of that sometimes,” Romar said. “Maybe we did that with C.J. in the Texas A&M game. But I’ll tell you what: I remember (in 2007) when Spencer (Hawes) was here, that’s exactly what we did. We were playing USC there, and we put him in the corner and we brought him off a double screen and he made his (3-pointer). I knew Spencer could make the shot. That was one of those where they’ll think we’re doing this, but we’re not.”
That season, Romar’s more obvious options were Jon Brockman and Justin Dentmon, or even the 7-foot Hawes under the basket rather than 19 feet away.
As for this season, Romar could name only one time when he has drawn up a play to get Thomas what might have been the final shot – although things didn’t work out that way.
“Michigan State,” he said. “We called a clear-out for Matthew Bryan-Amaning, who got fouled. But the possession before that, it was for Isaiah. We called a play for him to get the ball from the in-bounds play and get the shot. And there have been countless times when it wasn’t the last-second shot, but down the stretch we put the ball in his hands.”
Romar also did the next best thing against Arizona on Saturday by rejecting a timeout to call a final play and instead allowing Thomas to create.
What Thomas created was not only a win, but also one of the iconic moments in UW basketball history and the biggest swish of his basketball life.
“Nothing’s been that big,” Thomas said. “I’ve hit some game-winners, but those were regular-season games. I haven’t hit nothing that big.”
Having delivered one vital victory, Thomas hopes that in the future – perhaps as early as tonight on an even bigger stage – Romar will make the same decision that ultimately paid off for Coach Dale in “Hoosiers”: Trust the scorer to score.
“Hopefully,” Thomas said. “I auditioned for it. Hopefully, it changes a little bit. Hopefully, we’re not in that situation. But if we are, hopefully, Coach got enough trust in me like he did in that last game for me to take the last shot.”
Don Ruiz, 253-597-8808 firstname.lastname@example.org twitter/donruiztnt blog.thenewstribune.com/uwsports