On March 12, 2011, Isaiah Thomas made a shot that will live forever in Washington Husky lore.
Ten years later, his step-back jumper to beat Arizona in overtime for the Pac-10 men’s basketball tournament title is still regarded as one of the greatest plays in UW history.
Here’s a look back at the Husky men’s run to the 2011 Pac-10 Tournament title at Staples Center in Los Angeles.
89-87 win over No. 6 Washington State
The setup: After sweeping the regular-season series, including a dominating 80-69 win two weeks earlier, the Cougars were brimming with confidence heading into the rubber match against their cross-state rivals. Washington had lost two of its last three regular-season games and was without backup point guard Venoy Overton, who was suspended for the tournament.
WSU was also buoyed by the return of Pac-10 leading scorer Klay Thompson, who missed the final two regular-season games due to a suspension. The Cougars star scored a career-high 43 points, including eight three-pointers in his final Pac-10 game, but every UW starter scored in double figures led by Thomas’ 21 to give the Huskies the narrow win.
Former UW player Scott Suggs: “I remember closing out on Klay. It was a scramble situation and they were swinging the ball around to him on the left wing. I’m running out, I tipped it, the ball barely had any backspin on it. I yelled: “Tip, tip, tip.” And he whispered “cash.” I was like, ‘Yeah right.’ And he still hits nothing but net. That was like his 30th point. I was like c’mon man, what else can I do?”
69-51 win over No. 7 Oregon
The setup: The Huskies had little trouble with the Ducks while holding them to 32.1% shooting from the field.
Suggs: “I don’t remember much from that game other than IT played like all but 52 seconds in the entire tournament. It was crazy. Abdul Gaddy tore his ACL in the middle of the year and we didn’t have Venoy so in practice that week, they had me at point guard, but I hadn’t played PG since high school. But that was the game IT subbed out for like 50 seconds at the end and it was the only time he left the court.”
77-75 overtime win over No. 1 Arizona
The setup: Both teams won at home to split the regular-season series. In their previous matchup, Wildcats star Derrick Williams blocked a potential game-winning shot from Darnell Gant as time expired to preserve an 87-86 win in front of a sold-out crowd at McKale Center.
Suggs: “They had a very good team. We wanted them to win. It would have been disappointing if they had not done their job on that side of the bracket. I know they wanted us to win. It was perfect. It was like a clash of the titans. We were super excited to get that game so we could finally get our redemption over these guys. And I know they felt the same way.”
Washington trailed 66-62 with 26 seconds in regulation before Terrance Ross and C.J. Wilcox drained clutch three-pointers to knot the score at 68-68 and force overtime.
Neither team led by more than three points in the extra period and Arizona’s Kevin Parrom tied it once again at 75-75 with 21 seconds left.
That’s when Thomas, UW’s 5-foot-9 dynamo who finished with 28 points, seven assists and five rebounds, delivered once again.
This also feels like a good time to bring in play-by-play man Gus Johnson who called the game for CBS.
“And we’re tied at 75 again.
“Shot clock turned off. Game clock at eight.
“He’s gonna do it himself.
“Thomas. Shake. Crossover. Step baaaack.
“At the buzzer!
“And Washington, wins it on a last-second J!
During an interview earlier this year with Mark Titus and Tate Frazier, Johnson said Thomas’ shot was his all-time favorite basketball call.
Johnson: “You just knew the ball was going to go in. Like how could that not go in? Fortunately it went in. He had no emotion on his face. … He was like. ‘Nah coach I got this; don’t even worry about it.’ Bam. Bam! Game over. Cold blooded. It was just cold blooded to me. That’s what real ballplayers do. That’s what stars do. They step up to those situations, to those occasions. You cannot deny them.”
Former UW play-by-play announcer Bob Rondeau: “As memorable a basket as there has been in the history of the school decides the game. I’m trying to scratch out a call and it was anything but the kind of game I had hoped for, but the kind of game you dream about and befitting two really good teams and a conference tournament title that was well earned and still should be really well regarded in the annals of the program.”
Suggs: “It looked a little weird at first, but as he stepped back and released it, we all were holding our breath, but you could see that we knew it was nothing but net. When he hit that shot, it couldn’t have been any sweeter. They’re going to have to make a movie about that. For us, it was everything coming together at the right time and Isaiah hitting the greatest game winner that I’ve seen live.”
Washington received a No. 7 seed in the NCAA tournament and beat No. 10 Georgia 68-65 in the first round. Two days later, UW lost 86-83 to No. 2 North Carolina in front of a heavily partisan Tar Heels crowd in Charlotte, N.C.
Rondeau: “That game came down to a couple of buckets here or there late, and that Carolina team had some dudes too like Harrison Barnes. They were really good, but Washington is right there with them and had every chance to win that game as well. Who knows what might have happened afterward? Offensively, they were good enough to play with anybody in America.”
Reminiscing about Washington’s last conference tournament title is a fun little trip down memory lane and a sobering reminder at how far the Huskies have fallen during a 5-21 season, including an 11th-place Pac-12 finish at 4-16, that ranks among the worst in conference history.
Rondeau: “If nothing else, it’s massive backdoor flattery of (former UW coach) Lorenzo Romar and the kind of players he was able to bring here and the kind of teams he had. When Lorenzo’s teams were at their best, he always talked about playing defense, but his best teams could get up and down the floor and score. They were super fun to watch. They were really active, really aggressive, really entertaining and I would hesitate to use any of those words in describing the team we saw this year.”
Suggs: “Ten years ago we won the Pac-10 tournament and it looks a lot different than it does today, but I fully expect them to figure things out and get UW right back there again. They were in the NCAA tournament two years ago, so they’ve shown they can do it. I fully expect them to return to that so I’m excited.”