CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Washington traveled nearly 3,000 miles to get to its NCAA tournament site.
Isaiah Thomas wasn’t about to go back to Seattle so soon.
Thomas scored 19 points and helped break up a long pass in the final seconds that could have led to a tying 3-pointer. That helped the seventh-seeded Huskies hold off Georgia’s late rally and beat the 10th-seeded Bulldogs 68-65 on Friday night in the second round of the East regional.
“He’s special every night,” teammate C.J. Wilcox said. “He’s our leader. He puts the team on his back and does whatever he has to do to win – knocks down big shots, need a defensive stop, he does it.”
Scott Suggs added 10 points for the Huskies (24-10), who shot 43 percent and withstood a frantic final-minute push to win their fifth straight NCAA tournament opener and earn a spot opposite No. 2 seed North Carolina (27-7) on Sunday.
Trey Thompkins had 26 points and 11 rebounds for the Bulldogs (21-12), who trailed by 10 with 2 minutes left but made things interesting.
Thompkins hit a 3-pointer with 5.4 seconds remaining to make it 67-65 and Georgia fouled Wilcox with 3.7 seconds left. Wilcox made the first free throw but missed the second.
Jeremy Price grabbed the rebound for the Bulldogs and flung the ball downcourt, and Thomas got a hand on the pass.
“I just wanted to get a piece of the ball so they couldn’t get a good look at it,” Thomas said.
The Bulldogs didn’t. Travis Leslie snatched it, but his awkward 3 bounced high off the glass after the buzzer.
“I tried to throw up a lucky shot, but it just didn’t fall,” Leslie said.
Thomas, the MVP of the Pac-10 tournament last week, was 6 of 14 in this one.
“I just started seeing what their defense was doing. I told the guys, ‘Once you make a couple of passes and reverse the ball, it was wide open,’ ” Thomas said. “I had 1-on-1 matchups and I took advantage of them.”
Thomas reached double figures for the 91st time in 104 career games for Washington, which entered with the nation’s third-highest scoring offense but was held 15 points below its average of 83.5.
“Maybe it could have been the games where we have lost close games that we learned,” forward Justin Holiday said. “It finally hit us that we’re able to win close games, and we’re not always going to be able to score. … Realistically, it’s not going to be a whole bunch of games where we flat come out shooting, hitting and blowing out everybody.”
The Huskies’ 2,802-mile trip to their opening-weekend destination was the longest for any team in the tournament.
Leslie and Gerald Robinson each scored 12 points and Price added 11 for Georgia, which got no points from its bench.
Neither team led by more than seven until early in the second half, when the Huskies managed to turn up the tempo against a Georgia team determined to slow things down.
“We felt like if we could control the tempo, we’d give ourselves a chance to win,” Georgia coach Mark Fox said.
“In the second half, we just kind of adjusted to how they were playing against us,” Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said. “It’s what we wanted to do. They were very set-oriented, and they’re a type of team where they get in a rhythm by running their sets. They can be pretty good offensively, so we tried to keep them off balance as best we could.”