If there's a silver lining to the season-ending knee injury Washington's Abdul Gaddy suffered earlier this month, it's the impact the sophomore point guard's absence has had on one of his backcourt mates.
Isaiah Thomas has thrived since returning to the lead guard role, picking the right times to look for his own shot, to set up a teammate, to attack off the dribble and to pull it back out. That improved decision-making was on display again Thursday night when Thomas shredded Arizona's defense for 22 points, 10 assists and one turnover in a 85-68 Washington victory.
"Isaiah Thomas, it's not even close, there's not one player in the country who's more disrespected across the nation than him. Not one. It's not even close," Arizona coach Sean Miller told reporters after the game. "If he's not one of the top four or five point guards in the country, then I'm going to tell you I want to invite these guys who vote to come and watch film."
The success Thomas has enjoyed at point guard is crucial to the junior's hopes of one day playing in the NBA. There aren't many 5-foot-9 shooting guards on NBA rosters, so Thomas had to prove to scouts he could run an offense and get his teammates involved in order to even be considered a borderline pro prospect.
In the five games since Gaddy tore up his knee in practice earlier this month, Thomas has played like one of the best point guards in the nation. He's averaged 20.1 points, 9.4 assists and 2.8 turnovers, numbers that rival the production of national player of the year front runners Kemba Walker and Jimmer Fredette during that same stretch.
Every facet of Thomas' skill set was sharp Thursday night in a matchup of the Pac-10's top two teams.
He attacked Arizona's slower guards off the dribble and showed off an array of acrobatic finishes at the rim. He found Venoy Overton and Matthew Bryan-Amaning with feathery alley-oop passes. And for good measure, he even made the hustle play of the night midway through the second half as the Huskies were trying to put away the victory.
When Darnell Gant blocked Kevin Parrom's layup attempt toward the corner, Thomas sprinted after it and saved it to a teammate with a no-look behind-the-back pass, his momentum sending him sliding halfway down the tunnel no less. Seconds later, Thomas' got back into the play and fed Gant for an open left-wing 3-pointer.
The performance from Thomas ought to be enough to vault him into consideration for the Pac-10's player of the year award along with Arizona's Derrick Williams and Washington State's Klay Thompson. Williams certainly did nothing to harm his candidacy against the Huskies, shaking off a slow start to match Thomas' 22 points and chip in 11 rebounds.
But this night belonged to Thomas.
For the past few weeks, Thomas has tried to launch a movement to bring back "raising the roof," pumping his palms in the air after big plays and encouraging teammates and friends on other teams to do it as well. It's too soon to tell whether it will catch on like he hopes, but at least on Thursday, he made enough highlight-worthy plays to get plenty of airtime in support of it.