Thomas hits game-winner after practicing shot with ex-Arizona star Jason Terryby Javier Morales on Mar. 12, 2011, under Sports
LOS ANGELES — Washington dynamo guard Isaiah Thomas said he has not made a buzzer-beater like the one that beat Arizona on Saturday since he was playing at Curtis High School in Tacoma about five years ago.
He then corrected himself.
“I actually worked on that move last summer with Jason Terry,” said a smiling Thomas, whose jump shot over Lamont “MoMo” Jones as time expired in overtime gave the Huskies a 77-75 victory in the Pac-10 Tournament championship game at the Staples Center.
Terry, a former Arizona player, worked out regularly with Thomas last year. Their friendship has grown to the point where Terry says Thomas is like a brother to him.
When asked who made more shots against the other in those buzzer-beater sessions, Thomas answered with a laugh, “I did, a couple of times. … He is probably calling me right now.”
Another former standout UA point guard, Damon Stoudamire, phoned Thomas earlier this week to wish the Washington junior good luck (except, of course, if the Huskies played the Wildcats).
“I have not talked to him again since the tournament started, but I got his Wildcats back,” Thomas said with a smile.
Another mentor of his, former Oregon State All-American and 16-year NBA veteran Gary Payton, sat behind the Washington bench cheering for Thomas and the Huskies.
“Gary is a big mentor to me,” Thomas said. “I pointed at him after the game and he gave me a pump fist back.
“It’s an honor knowing those guys. Those dudes are great players. I take everything they tell me and work it into my game.”
Thomas’ game-winning jump shot, just inside the three-point arc on the left side, was set up after Kevin Parrom tied the game at 75 with 19 seconds left in overtime. When Thomas dribbled the ball up the court, isolated on Jones, he glanced over at Washington coach Lorenzo Romar, who looked as though he was about to call a timeout.
“I told him let me just take it and get something … I knew,” Thomas said.
Romar, sitting at the other end of the interview table, answered, “You didn’t say all that.”
“I didn’t say it,” Thomas said, “but that was my motion though.”
“OK, I’m with you,” Romar said, smiling.
As the clock ticked, UA coach Sean Miller realized the Wildcats were in a bind with Thomas, the Pac-10′s best playmaker, handling the ball.
“Most of the time, they use ball screens,” Miller said. “But this was one of the few times (Thomas) stayed up there by himself. … He stepped back and made a fairly well-guarded shot.
“In that situation, there’s not a whole lot you can do. You just hope it doesn’t come to that.”
While maneuvering against Jones, Thomas not only remembered the faux last-second shots he made against Terry last summer. He said he thought about what NBA All-Stars Kobe Bryant and Paul Pierce have done in similar situations.
Thomas said they use the term “getting to the elbows”, which is a basketball vernacular for working for a shot that is inside the three-point line at either top corner of the key.
“I see guys like Kobe and Paul Pierce always get to the elbows and not settle for the three,” Thomas said. “I was able to get to the elbow, lift it up, and it went in.”
After the shot fell, and Washington openly celebrated on the court, Jones took a seat by himself on the Arizona bench and covered his head with a towel.
“He made a contested fade away jump shot,” Jones said later when asked if he could have done anything differently. “He didn’t make a layup or an uncontested shot. He made a contested fade-away jump shot and it went in.
Thomas recollection of the shot: “(Jones) played great defense. I actually lost the ball a little bit. I had to step back and create space. I couldn’t see the hoop, though. So I didn’t see it go in. When it left my hand it felt good.”
Thomas played 123 minutes in the three tournament games and all 45 minutes Saturday. He said he took that last shot on adrenaline.
“Man, I was just so tired,” he said. “Your will to win takes over. I couldn’t let the other guys see me holding my knees, because they would get tired too.”
He finished with 28 points (on 10 of 16 shooting) and seven assists. Two of the assists enabled Washington to send the game into overtime. He did not look weary penetrating strongly, and finding the open man for two game-tying three-pointers.
Solomon Hill and Parrom were victimized by Thomas’ penetration, sagging toward him instead of staying with C.J. Wilcox and Terrence Ross, both of whom burned the Wildcats with the open threes on the wing.
“It was a lack of concentration on my part,” Parrom said. “Isaiah drove in. I was supposed to help, but I didn’t get back to my man. He was able to drive it in and kick it out. That was a big reason why we lost.”
In terms of helping defensively on Thomas’ drives, Parrom said he was supposed to stay on the “pack line”, an imaginary line in which the defender stays between the ball-handler and the shooter.
“By staying in that pack line, you keep them guessing,” Parrom added. “When Isaiah drives it in, we’re supposed to jab at him but not leave our man open. That’s my mistake.”
Thomas did not agree that Hill and Parrom were to blame for the game-tying three-pointers off his penetration.
“You go to do what they did,” Thomas said. “I drove the lane real hard. They collapsed like they should and I found our shooters. They managed to knock those shots down.”
Thomas’ last-second shot — the most demoralizing against Arizona since Stanford’s miracle halfcourt shot in 2005 at the buzzer — was not the only part of the outcome Miller talked to his team about afterward. The players said he harped on finishing games strongly, a criticism from Miller of his team most of the season.
“You are always going to remember this,” said Derrick Williams, who had 24 points and 11 rebounds for the Wildcats. “There is no way we should lose being up by six with a minute left. No way.”
Jones added, “We have to finish our games; it’s as simple as that. Nothing more. Nothing less. We’ve been fortunate through the season to not finish our games and get the win. Tonight, it came back to bite us in the butt.”
The grand solace out of watching Washington celebrate Thomas’ last-second heroics and consecutive Pac-10 tournament title: Playing in the NCAA tournament. Selection Sunday is upon college basketball. Nine of Arizona’s 13 scholarship players have yet to experience March Madness. They will get their first taste either Thursday or Friday.
Before leaving Staples Center, Miller talked about what could have been but had an eye for the future for his 16th-ranked Wildcats (27-7).
“We were so close to winning the Pac-10 championship and our 28th game,” Miller said. “(A win against Washington) and we probably get one-level higher seed (in the NCAA tournament).
“We’re not going to make too big of a deal about it, though. I thought our guys played hard. We were right there. We’re moving on to the NCAA tournament with 27 wins. We’ll be ready.”