Isaiah Thomas’ chest heaved as he dribbled slowly near midcourt.
The Washington point guard had played nearly every minute of three games in three days, and he appeared in no hurry Saturday evening as the shot clock dwindled on a possession late in regulation of the Huskies’ Pacific 10 Conference tournament championship against top-seeded Arizona.
A few minutes later, Thomas left everyone else inside Staples Center breathless.
With the final seconds ticking off the clock and the score tied in overtime, the 5-foot-9 dynamo elevated for a step-back, fadeaway jumper just inside the three-point line that lifted third-seeded Washington to a 77-75 victory.
Thomas backpedaled as the ball went through the net, his teammates quickly mobbing him near midcourt. Washington players then hoisted Thomas on their shoulders in celebration of their second consecutive Pac-10 tournament title.
“Coach was going to call a timeout [but] he trusted me,” Thomas said afterward, referring to Lorenzo Romar. “I told him, ‘Let me just try to take it and get something … ‘ “
Interjected Romar: “You didn’t say all that.”
Conceded Thomas: “I didn’t say it. That was my motion, though.”
Said Romar: “OK, I’m with you.”
Thomas’ performance was like a tall tale itself. The junior scored a season-high 28 points on 10-for-16 shooting to go with seven assists, five rebounds and two steals in 45 minutes, an effort that netted him the tournament’s most outstanding player award for a second consecutive year.
Thomas played 123 of a possible 125 minutes in the tournament, the heavy workload necessitated by the absence of point guards Abdul Gaddy and Venoy Overton. Gaddy was lost for the season in January because of a torn knee ligament and Overton was suspended on the eve of the tournament for allegedly supplying alcohol to a minor.
“Physically, to play 45 minutes, three games in three days, is almost impossible,” said Derrick Williams, who had 24 points and 11 rebounds for Arizona (27-7).
Did Romar consider taking Thomas out at any point?
“Not tonight, no,” Romar said.
Smart move. Thomas set the Pac-10 tournament record with 30 assists in three games, two of them helping Washington (23-10) wipe out a 66-62 deficit in the final 26 seconds of regulation. First, Thomas found Terrence Ross in the corner for a three-point basket that drew the Huskies to within a point.
Then, after Arizona’s Lamont Jones made two free throws, Thomas drove into the paint amid a scrum of defenders. He passed the ball to C.J. Wilcox, whose three-point basket with seven seconds left tied the score, 68-68, and sent the game into overtime after Jones missed a running three-point shot at the buzzer.
Thomas said he had told his teammates during a huddle late in the game that he wasn’t worried about scoring.
“So when I get you the ball,” Thomas said he instructed them, “just score. Don’t pass it back to me. And they did a great job of that.”
But in the final seconds of overtime, with the score tied and Thomas dribbling to the left of the top of the key, there was no doubt who would take the decisive shot.
“You could see it in his eyes when the person I was guarding was going to go set a pick, he called it off,” Williams said of Thomas. “He was just looking for that last shot. The best player on the team, that’s what he wants to do. He wants to take the last shot.
“Great players make big shots like that.”
And then they rest.
“I’m really tired,” Thomas said. “I’m ready to get on the plane and go to sleep.”