Isaiah Thomas (Kim Grinolds/Dawgman.com)
There is no denying the Huskies' erratic nature. When they're good, they're a steamroller with a Ferrari engine. When they're off their game, they can appear disorganized, almost lost. They were 5-6 over an 11-game span heading into the Pac-10 tournament, then flicked the switch. The postseason switch.
Washington (23-10) roared through three games at the Pac-10 tournament, winning the title for the second straight season.
The Huskies opened with a win over rival Washington State, which had beaten then twice this year and got a tournament-record 43 points from Klay Thompson. Then they dispatched upstart Oregon, the league's most surprising team.
And in the final, they conquered regular-season champion Arizona 77-75 in overtime when Isaiah Thomas coolly drilled an 18-footer from the top of the key as the horn sounded.
Washington earned a No. 7 seed and will play in the East Regional, opening Friday in Charlotte, N.C., against No. 10 Georgia (21-11).
It seems more than a coincidence that Washington is able find that switch so often this time of year.
Last year, for instance, the Huskies won their final four Pac-10 games to pull into third place, then swept through the conference tournament including a win over regular-season champ Cal in the title game, then won twice in the NCAA Tournament to reach the Sweet 16.
Given that history, there's no reason to believe the Huskies' run will end now.
"We felt from the beginning of the year, if we came out and played Husky basketball and played the way we were capable of, we'd have a chance to be successful in most any game," coach Lorenzo Romar said after the win over Arizona. "So we'll go see. We'll see what happens. It's a good time for us to be playing together and playing right. I know that much."
Certainly Thomas seems primed to give any opponent fits in the tournament. Before totaling 28 points, seven assists and two steals in the win over Arizona, he had 10 points, 12 assists and four steals against Oregon, and 21 points, 10 assists and three steals vs. Washington State.
Do the math: That's 59 points, 29 assists and nine steals in three Pac-10 tournament games.
Plus the winning shot.
"I just made a little step back," he said, "and God made the ball go in the hoop."
--Washington does it by committee. Coach Lorenzo Romar gives nine players an average of at least 15 minutes per game. Sometimes it seems as though the Huskies have a never-ending supply of tall, agile and skilled wings.
--The Huskies have played since mid-January without sophomore PG Abdul Gaddy, who tore his left ACL and underwent season-ending surgery. Gaddy averaged 8.5 points and had a 49-to-13 assist-to-turnover ratio through 13 games and was a terrific steadying influence for a team that sometimes really needs that. Isaiah Thomas has been excellent since moving from shooting guard to point guard, but occasionally Romar must wish he had the dependable influence of Gaddy on the floor.
COACH: Lorenzo Romar, nine years at Washington, seventh postseason appearance (sixth NCAA)
KEYS TO VICTORY: The Huskies won all five games they played in Los Angeles this season, sweeping UCLA and USC in January, then capturing the Pac-10 tournament at the Staples Center. But Washington was 4-8 otherwise outside the city of Seattle and has some history of being an unpredictable road team. The Huskies should benefit from the return of senior SG Venoy Overton, a strong defender who was suspended for the Pac-10 tournament after being charged with providing alcohol to a minor in a case that lingered for weeks. He is scheduled to be reinstated to the active roster for the NCAAs, and his experience will benefit the team, provided he hasn't lost his sharpness. Mostly, the Huskies need to play their all-out, bump-and-run defense, crash-the-boards game. If they play with energy and purpose, they can hang with almost anyone.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Whenever a game leads you to win a championship, it's a victory that you'll always remember. The way and the fashion that this was done makes it a victory that ranks up there pretty high. It's up there." -- Coach Lorenzo Romar after the Huskies' overtime victory vs. Arizona in the Pac-10 tournament championship game.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL:
GAME PREVIEW: vs. Georgia, March 18, NCAA Tournament second round
KEY MATCHUPS: The Bulldogs (21-11) were a bit of a surprise entry in the field, especially after losing twice to SEC rival Alabama, which was left out of the tournament. Georgia lost double-overtime games to Notre Dame and Florida but got a win over Kentucky. The Huskies will try to contain 6-foot-10 junior Trey Thompkins, who leads the team at 16.1 points per game, and 6-4 junior G Travis Leslie, averaging 14.5 points and 7.2 rebounds.
SCOUTING REPORT: The Huskies are an explosive offensive team that topped 100 points on six occasions this season. They score in bunches, off turnovers or from the 3-point arc. But defense triggers most of it. Washington is fast and physical and loves to play aggressive defense. The Huskies will bump opponents without worrying about collecting fouls because they're convinced the officials won't call everything. And they're right. The faster and more ragged the game becomes, the more the Huskies like it.
--Junior PG Isaiah Thomas, at perhaps 5-foot-8, is a energetic dynamo who has blended passing with his versatile scoring skills. He has great range and a quick release from the perimeter, but he is unafraid of mixing it up with drives into the paint. Thomas had three games this season of at least 20 points and 10 assists: 27 and 13 vs. Cal, 22 and 10 vs. Arizona and 21 and 11 vs. Washington State. His season numbers entering the NCAAs: 16.8 points and 6.0 assists.
--Senior F Matthew Bryan-Amaning, a 6-foot-9 native of London, was voted the Pac-10's Most Improved Player after averaging 15.5 points and 8.1 rebounds. He had nine double-doubles and nine 20-point games through March 13, including a 30-point effort vs. Arizona State. A year ago, Bryan-Amaning averaged just 8.8 points and 5.9 rebounds.
--Senior G Justin Holiday averaged 12.9 points through the Huskies' first 18 games, but his production tailed off to 8.5 over the past 16 games through March 13. Primarily it's been a case of youngsters Terrence Ross and C.J. Wilcox seeing bigger roles as they've become more comfortable and productive, but Wilcox was scoreless in 31 minutes in the Pac-10 title game vs. Arizona.