SEATTLE – Whoever said that big-time basketball left these parts when the NBA moved to the Midwest wasn’t prepared for what happened at Hec Edmundson Pavilion on Thursday night.
The Pac-10’s top two men’s basketball teams clashed amid the starburst energy of an all-or-nothing game – even though it’s only mid-January.
And in the end, it was No. 20 University of Washington that took the lead after one lap.
The Huskies survived their first home test of the regular season, beating Arizona 85-68 to take over sole possession of first place atop the conference standings.
“This is what you want to play for,” said UW’s Isaiah Thomas, who had 22 points and 10 assists for his second consecutive double-double. “When you’re a ballplayer, these are the games you want to play well in and get the win.”
UW senior Matthew Bryan-Amaning overcame a tough first half to score 12 of UW’s first 15 points after halftime. Most of it came during a 16-4 run that helped the Huskies (14-4 overall, 6-1 in the Pac-10) start to pull away.
But the biggest sequence came when Darnell Gant blocked a shot, Isaiah Thomas dove head-first into the tunnel to save the ball, then Gant nailed a 3-pointer at the other end for a 59-50 lead with 11:15 remaining.
“That was big,” Thomas said. “The rebound was right there, so I was going to do whatever I needed to get there. And then Darnell knocked down a big 3, and that changed the momentum to our side and we kept the lead for the rest of the night.”
While the game marked UW’s 10th double-digit win in as many home dates this season, this one was much more competitive than any of the previous nine.
Arizona found a way to keep UW in a half-court game for much of the first half but couldn’t take advantage because of atrocious field-goal shooting. The Wildcats missed 12 of their first 14 shots and were 10 of 30 at halftime.
UW was also unusually off from the 3-point arc, hitting just 7 of 23.