Beach's Bits - Isaiah Thomas

After enduring a miserable couple of weeks off the court and in the training room, the Washington Huskies badly needed something to go right for a change. Enter Isaiah Thomas, the Huskies Mini Cooper-sized point man with the heart of a Sherman tank.

When Abdul Gaddy went down with a season ending ACL injury, it very well could have taken the Huskies' season down with it. But, as he has his done his entire life, Thomas rose to the challenge and lifted his teammates above the mess. During the opening week of Pac-10 play, the junior from Tacoma responded by earning Pac-10 Player of the Week honors for the first time in his career, amazingly enough. And though last week's off-court distractions may have had something to do with Thursday night's disappointing two-point loss at Stanford, it was Thomas that single-handedly dismantled the California Golden Bears Sunday night in Berkeley.

It was as if Thomas wanted to speak to those UW fans concerned the Huskies might be falling apart from the strain of things going badly. Not to worry, Dawg Pack, was his message.

I've got this.

While he was raising the roof at Haas Pavilion, Thomas was actually doing it by pushing down all the negativity so it stayed well below the surface. He never gave Cal fans a reason to have hope; he either scored or assisted on 14 of the Huskies' first 19 points as they raced out to a 15-point halftime lead.

And instead of surrendering a double-digit lead like they did in Palo Alto, Thomas kept feeding the beast, collecting a career-high 13 assists via quick, pin-point passes to Matthew Bryan-Amaning in the paint for easy buckets. Any time Cal would even attempt a run, Zeke was penetrating their defense like a bubble-popping needle and dishing dimes out deep to a wide-open Justin Holiday for dagger threes. It was a virtuoso performance from a player who seemingly gets better with every game.

Once criticized for selfish play, Thomas now leads the Pac-10 in assists, distributing 8.2 a game. Between his brilliant passing and scoring, excellent defense and surprising rebounding, Thomas is a complete player, the best the Pac-10 currently has to offer.

Thomas is often overlooked by Pac-10 pundits who tend to favor the more glamorous scoring numbers put up by Arizona's Derrick Williams and Washington State's Klay Thompson. No disrespect to them, they are great players in their own right - but the truth is, Thomas' play has significantly exceded the efforts of his conference counterparts. He just happens to play on team with a lineup full of capable double-digit scorers on any given night. And that's without factoring in defense – an area where Thomas quietly shines.

The most encouraging aspect of IT's breakout season is that it has come as a result of fully embracing his leadership role. Thomas could easily get his 20-plus points per night, and rightly challenge for the Pac-10 scoring crown. He will be the first to admit that he loves to put up big scoring numbers. But because he's a winner and a team player first, it's not his priority. Getting the W is all that counts. If that means scoring two points and playing provider, making that extra pass for the better shot? So be it.

It's his unselfishness, leadership and maturity that are quickly cementing his status as one of the great players to ever don a Husky uniform.

Thomas has plenty of unfinished business. The Huskies have earned trips to the Sweet Sixteen three out of the last six seasons. In his first two years as a Husky, those teams were 3-2 in NCAA Tournament play, including last season's Sweet Sixteen loss to West Virginia. Great achievements to be sure, but it's time the Huskies pushed toward the uncharted waters of an Elite Eight appearance, or even further than that. Thomas is the unquestioned captain of the good ship Montlake; it's up to the rest of the team to get on board.

An inspiring victory over California Golden Bears gave the Huskies a kick-start they needed, and just in time for a critical showdown against 4-1 Arizona on Thursday at Hec Ed.

Do you think Isaiah Thomas will show up for that game? Don't worry, he's already got his cot set up in the UW players lounge, and those three little words are running a full-court press in his brain.

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