Isaiah Thomas has been key to UW's quick turnaround
Huskies, Thomas say 'we all we got' as they try for road win at UCLA.
Seattle Times staff reporter
UW @ UCLA, 7:30 p.m., FSN
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If Washington has really "turned the corner" as coach Lorenzo Romar claimed and the Huskies are dancing in March, they'll thank Isaiah Thomas for saving the season.
In every way a team can be saved, he did it.
He told them, "We all we got," and they believed him. It became their motto and rallying cry.
"It's from a song, Murphy Lee said it and we've just been living that motto," sophomore forward Darnell Gant said. "And the coaches even bought into that motto that we all we got. ... Once we bought into being together, no matter what, everything changed."
After Oregon thrashed the Huskies at Edmundson Pavilion, snapping UW's 18-game home winning streak, Thomas called a players-only meeting.
They gathered in the locker room and players were called out for not performing to their potential. Thomas did most of the talking.
"I called that meeting to get our guys head's right and get together so that everybody knows that at the end of the day, we're playing for ourselves," he said. "We're playing for this team and nobody else. It doesn't matter what you read or what you see, it's about us."
Thus UW's motto was born.
The next weekend, Washington dropped games at Arizona State and Arizona and the Huskies' chance of repeating as Pac-10 champion was on life support.
The team picked 14th in the preseason national polls was riding a three-game losing streak and criticized by fans and media.
Romar said the scrutiny may have galvanized the Huskies.
"A lot of the negativity that's been going on, maybe that bothered them," he said. "Sometimes players don't understand that. ... If it bothered them to the point where they want to take an us-against-the world approach, I'm not going to stand in their way."
Still words weren't enough.
Facing Stanford and Cal last week, Thomas stepped to the forefront again.
He drew the defensive assignment against Cardinal guard Jeremy Green, the Pac-10 scoring leader in conference games Green tallied a career-high 30 points in his previous outing, however, Thomas held him to seven points and Washington won 94-61.
The next game, Thomas was the point man on Cal's Jerome Randle, the conference's second-leading scorer in Pac-10 games.
Randle had a career-high 39 points in his last outing, however, Thomas held him to a season-low five points and Washington won 84-69.
"I'm going to do anything I can to get a win," said Thomas, who averaged 17.5 points in the wins against the Bay Area teams. "If I score zero points and stop the leading scorer on their team, I'm going to do that."
If Pondexter, UW's senior captain, is the heart of the team, then Thomas is its soul.
He reflects everything — good and bad — about the Huskies.
Sometimes the 5-8 sophomore plays erratic and out of control, but last week "he looked like the best guard in the Pac-10", former Huskies guard Eldridge Recasner said on a KJR-AM radio show
"I've been doubted all my life," said Thomas, who is trying to infuse his desire to overcome all obstacles into the Huskies.
"I feel like I'm the leader of this team," he said. "No matter if Quincy is the captain. He's been through it all. He knows the ins and outs of this league and he's a great captain.
"But I feel like every team I've been on, I've been that leader. And it's not just showing people, but telling people."
Pondexter, Washington's leading scorer at 20.3 points per game and three-time Pac-10 Player of the Week award winner, said Thomas and new starter Justin Holiday are responsible for the team's turnaround.
"We have a lot of people stepping up trying to be leaders and that's what every team needs," he said. "It's not just one person. It's multiple people that helps this ship go right."
Despite a nagging ankle sprain and mild concussion suffered Dec. 12, Thomas has averaged 18.2 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists. He's improved in every statistical category from last season when he won the Freshman of the Year award and voted second team all-Pac-10.
"I always have something to prove," Thomas said. "No matter what, you're never going to be perfect and someone is going to say something about your game. That's one thing in my whole life that people have said, that I haven't been that defensive guy. There's always something to prove."
The next challenge facing the Huskies is proving they can win on the road where they're 0-4. Washington (12-5, 3-3 Pac-10) plays tonight at UCLA (7-10, 2-3) and Saturday at USC (11-6, 3-2).
"We feel like we've turned the corner to where whether we're on the road or whether we're at home it doesn't matter we play one way," Romar said. "But we haven't done that yet.
"So it remains to be seen."