March 17, 2011

Controlling Thomas key for Dawgs

Travis Leslie already knows a little bit about Washington guard Isaiah Thomas, who figures to play a huge role for the No. 7 seed Huskies in Friday night's (9:45 p.m.) East Regional.

The two have met before.

Leslie was a 16-year-old member of the Georgia Stars 17-under AAU squad which on one particular occasion ran across a team from Seattle, led by the soon-to-be-star of the Pac-10 champion Huskies.

It's not necessarily a meeting Leslie cares to recall.

"He's the reason we lost," Leslie said Wednesday before the No. 10 seed Bulldogs (21-11) boarded their bus for the three-hour trip to Charlotte, NC.

"He's just a great player," Leslie recalled. "He goes to the basket and he can shoot. He's an overall good player."

One look at his stats proves that.

Besides averaging a team-best 16.8 points per contest, Thomas' quickness, ability with the basketball and penchant for big plays makes him one of the country's best, as evidenced by his fall-away jumper from 18-feet out at the buzzer last week which gave the Huskies their second consecutive Pac-10 tourney crown.

Thomas averaged 19.7 points and 10 assists in his team's three games, which also saw the Washington native play in 123 of 125 minutes in the conference tournament.

"He's a great player; he knows how to play the game very well," Bulldog guard Gerald Robinson Jr. said. "It's going to be up to the whole team to try and slow him down."

But it will be Robinson Jr. and Dustin Ware - who have rotated at the point for Georgia all year - who will get the first shot.

Robinson knows it won't be easy. He was also hard-pressed to compare the 5-foot-8 sparkplug to any player the Bulldogs have seen all year.

"He's a dynamic scorer, he's very quick but at the same time really knows how to get his team involved," Robinson Jr. said. "I really can't think of anyone he reminds me of off the top of my head. We've played a lot of great guards in this league but he's No. 1."

Ware couldn't come up with a name to compare, either.

"I don't really know about anybody we've seen this year; he's definitely a really good player, a really good point guard, he makes that team go and is really responsible for that team being as good as they are," Ware said. "We're going to have to bring our hard hats to work because he's a really good player. We're going to have to be at our best against him."

Bulldog coach Mark Fox even went as far to say the Washington junior is already better than one of the Husky program's more well-known alum - Nate Robinson, currently with the Oklahoma City Thunder of the NBA.

"He's better than Nate," said Fox, not batting an eye. "He's a better player than Nate and Nate is obviously good enough to be a pro. But Isaiah Thomas is terrific."

But Fox warns not to overlook the rest of Thomas' teammates, who together have helped the Huskies average 83.5 points per game.

"Washington is extremely talented, a great offensive team," Fox said. "They're very complete offensively and very explosive. They combine that with good defense."

And depth.

Ten different players have started at various times for the Huskies, including 6-foot-10 forward Matthew Bryan-Amaning, who averages 15.5 points and 8.1 rebounds.

"No, they have too many guys who can score," said Fox, when asked if the key to beating Washington was stopping Thomas. "This is a very complete offensive team. Isaiah is a great player, but they have a lot of good pieces around him that make for a great team."

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