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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    “Resurgent Huskies tough inside, out”

    The preseason hype around the Pacific 10 Conference included the atypical predictions: UCLA would wrap up its fourth consecutive title with its All-American veteran Darren Collison and big-shot recruit Jrue Holiday.

    And USC wasn’t too shabby either, led by its own high-profile recruit Demar DeRozan.

    The end result, yet to be determined, could see a third variable to this year’s Pac-10 equation.

    About halfway through the 2008-09 season, it’s an underrated Washington squad leading the conference with an All-American veteran and league-leading freshman of its own.

    The No. 23 Huskies (15-4, 6-1 Pac-10) entered the AP Top-25 Coaches poll this week for the first time since 2007, arguably entering this weekend’s series against the Arizona schools as the hottest team in the nation.

    Washington has won 13 of its last 14 games, with the only loss coming after a triple overtime against California on Jan. 10 in Seattle.

    Last weekend, the Huskies swept the Los Angeles schools, giving UW head coach Lorenzo Romar yet another reason to believe his freshman, Isaiah Thomas, has showed the greatest impact on the Pac-10 – even over Holiday and DeRozan

    “”I think at this point he has, as a freshmen, made the biggest impact in helping a team, especially in our case as a turnaround from last year,”” Romar said in the weekly Pac-10 teleconference. “”Isaiah Thomas has made the biggest impact to me out of all the freshmen in the conference.””

    Thomas, a 5-foot-8 freshman from Tacoma, Wash., has proven himself as a dynamic, backcourt weapon – the kind of player they’ve missed since the departure of Brandon Roy in 2006.

    “”They’ve been able to really get their game going,”” UA interim head coach Russ Pennell said of the Huskies. “”Three years ago this same group of guys, they had a nice run, and they’ve been missing that guy.

    “”Looks like (Thomas has) brought them together. He’s a talented kid. He’s not real big, but fearless.””

    Added UW senior forward Jon Brockman: “”I knew he was capable. I knew he was going to be not-your-typical-freshman.””

    Thomas’ fearless attitude is something he worked on in the offseason. He hit the weight room over the summer in preparation for penetrating to the basket and reaching the free throw line as often as possible.

    It’s paid off so far.

    Thomas has made 88-of-120 free throws this season, which is more attempts than any of last year’s UW guards had.

    “”I’ve really emphasized it more of getting to the line,”” Thomas said. “”That’s easy points.””

    Thomas has scored double figures in 17 of 19 games this year, leading the team in points per game and averaging 19.0 in Pac-10 play.

    “”He’s such a creator and playmaker, he was an uncanny ability to get into the paint and make things happen,”” Romar said. “”Defenses have to collapse on him, he just kind of opens things up for everyone else.””

    Added UA point guard Nic Wise: “”He’s quick and he’s crafty. He knows how to carry his own shot.””

    Brockman spoken highly of by UA, UW

    When asked earlier this week about Jon Brockman’s time at the UW, Pennell responded jokingly that he thought Brockman has been in the Pac-10 for nine years.

    “”First of all, I wish he was able to be here nine years,”” Romar said. “”I’ve said this many times, he approaches every drill – not just the games – as if he’s trying to make the team.

    “”When you get your potential All-American coming back this year practicing like he’s trying to make the team, you got great things coming your way. That’s how Jon is. He is probably the lowest-maintenance player that I’ve ever been around.””

    The senior played on Roy’s team as a freshman, and has kept the same work ethic ever since.

    The kind words from his coach are often heard throughout the league. In the almost identical words of Pennell earlier this week:

    “”I think Jon Brockman is about what’s right with college sports,”” Pennell said. “”I love the way he plays. To me, Jon Brockman plays like he tries to make the team everyday.””

    Entering the weekend, Brockman is the Pac-10’s second-leading rebounder and is No. 10 nationally with 10.7 boards per game.

    “”It’s hard to find guys like that who play everyday like their jobs on the line,”” Pennell added.

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