Isaiah Thomas did more than enough to help Washington avoid an upset in its season opener. Coach Lorenzo Romar would likely prefer a more balanced effort in his team’s next contest.
The 14th-ranked Huskies continue their opening grind against Belmont on Saturday in the second night of the round-robin Athletes in Action Classic on their home floor at Bank of America Arena.
After averaging a team-leading 15.5 points and being named Pac-10 freshman of the year last season, Thomas scored a career-high 30 as Washington held on for a 74-69 win over Wright State in the opener of the tournament.
With star forward Jon Brockman now in the NBA, Romar is expecting more offense from the 5-foot-8 Thomas. For one night, he delivered, going 7 of 14 from the field and 14 of 18 from the line for the defending conference champions, who nearly blew an 18-point lead and their highest preseason ranking since 1985.
Thomas topped a 27-point effort against Morgan State on Dec. 30.
While Thomas’ night can’t be overlooked, his 18 first-half points were more than Washington’s second-leading scorer - Quincy Pondexter with 12.
“I mean, I’ve been a scorer my whole life,” said Washington’s player of the year as a junior at Curtis High School in University Place, Wash. “Me scoring 30 points probably won’t be good later in the season. But like Coach Romar told us, (Saturday) it will be somebody’s else’s night.”
Romar hopes that’s the case after his squad shot 42.3 percent and allowed a Wright State team without two starters to go on a 10-1 run and get within six points with 5 minutes left.
Aside from Thomas and Pondexter, Washington’s other three starters combined for 13 points. Highly-touted freshman guard and Tacoma product Abdul Gaddy had five on 1-of-4 shooting in 16 minutes.
“That was one of my main concerns I had coming in,” said Romar, who’s team will play three games in three days during their event. “And these are the types of teams that can bite you in the preseason.”
Belmont could provide another challenge it meets Washington for the first time.
After finishing 20-13 and reaching the quarterfinals of the inaugural CollegeInsider.com postseason tournament in 2008-09, the Bruins were picked to finish fifth in the Atlantic Sun.
Despite losing five seniors, including conference player of the year Alex Renfroe, Belmont scored six of the game’s final seven points to beat Portland State 74-67 on Friday.
“For Washington, they need to win these games because they’re thinking at-large down the road,” Belmont coach Rick Byrd told the school’s official Web site. “For us, we’re just hoping to be a better team when we leave here Sunday.”
Freshman guard Ian Clark had 21 points on 9 of 15 shooting and Keaton Belcher added 16 for Belmont, which shot 46.4 percent and overcame 18 turnovers.
An NCAA tournament qualifier three of the last four seasons and near upset-winner over Duke in 2008, Belmont is 0-3 against Pac-10 schools.
Washington concludes this event against Portland State on Sunday night, while Belmont faces Wright State.