ARIZONA BASKETBALL

Underrated? Raise hands

2011-01-20T00:00:00Z 2013-09-17T16:15:41Z Underrated? Raise handsBruce Pascoe Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
January 20, 2011 12:00 am  • 

In his second year with the Arizona Wildcats, coach Sean Miller is aware that the Pac-10 sometimes operates in a black hole of lost time zones and obscure television coverage.

But that doesn't make him feel much better when it comes to two of the league's best players, Arizona's Derrick Williams and Washington's Isaiah Thomas.

Last month, Miller complained that Williams picked up more recognition after the UA won at North Carolina State - when, in fact, Williams had been scintillating long before that - and now he doesn't like the fact that love for Thomas doesn't extend much outside the Pacific Northwest.

"He's getting one-tenth of the recognition he deserves," Miller said. "To me, everybody should be talking about Isaiah Thomas. When I turn the TV on and they're talking about the top guards and he's not mentioned, it's really not fair."

Even though Thomas and Williams are entirely different players, with the 5-foot-9-inch Thomas being about a foot shorter than Williams, both are dynamic offensive forces that Miller says are equally valuable to their teams.

Here are five reasons why:

SKILL SET

Derrick Williams: Listed at 6-8, Williams plays bigger with the ability to dart past taller defenders and shoot over smaller ones, and he's a strong rebounder on both ends of the floor.

Simply put, he isn't easily stopped by anybody or anything except, sometimes, a whistle.

"His game is all angles," forward Solomon Hill said. "Once he passes you, it's all over. And his athleticism allows him to finish at the rim and finish with contact.

"Most post guys are going to back you down, using jump hooks, bank shots. But Derrick is facing you up so close to the basket, and with his ability to explode, I think it's kind of different."

Isaiah Thomas: Like Williams in the frontcourt, Thomas will get around guys easily in the backcourt, and either make his way to or shoot for the basket often. Lately, with point guard Abdul Gaddy out for the season with a torn ACL, Thomas has excelled at handling the offense, too.

And he combines it all with a veteran savvy.

"He's a pretty smart player when he's really concentrating," Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said. "Sometimes he's so good offensively, he can be stubborn, because he feels that there's no one out there who can stop him. When he's playing at his best, he recognizes when to go and when not to go while constantly putting the heat on you."

SWAGGER

Derrick Williams: Where some players will intimidate with a chest pump or a scream, Williams will kill you with smiles.

Williams' self-confidence is understated for his ability, with expressions most visible after his flashy dunks, thanks to a mother who has long kept his ego in check and his laid-back Southern California personality.

But he's not exactly quiet, either. Hill says he talks more than any Wildcat on the floor.

"Especially when he gets going," Hill says.

Isaiah Thomas: There may not be a more demonstrative player in the Pac-10 than Thomas, whose showy expressions take on even more power because he's the smallest guy on the floor.

If he gets past you, or shoots over you, Thomas will also give you a verbal replay.

"He is the talk of Washington. He brings a swagger to that team," Hill said. "It doesn't matter if he's coming in the game, leaving the game, or in the game. He talks a lot."

THE STATISTIC

Derrick Williams: 2.29 - Williams' points per shot, an off-the-charts measurement of his nation-leading scoring efficiency. If Williams doesn't get the shot off, chances are he is being fouled - and he has hit 77 percent of his eye-opening 174 free throws.

So usually, he's going to score, somehow, some way.

"I think, for me personally, he's the hardest cover since Ike Diogu was at Arizona State," Romar said. "We just really tried to find ways to get Ike locked up in a closet before we played them or something. He was such a difficult cover, and Derrick Williams is becoming like that. He's hard to deal with."

Isaiah Thomas: 27 - Points that Thomas scored against California on Sunday, along with 13 assists, a combination that an astonished Miller says meant "he was responsible for almost 60 points in a single a game."

Thomas will get his points any number of ways. He is shooting 45.7 percent from the field, 35.8 percent from three-point range and 72.9 percent from the free-throw line.

He's also willed - and, possibly, acted - his way to the line 96 times already this season.

"He'll come off a screen and acted like somebody socked him in the face," Hill said. "He'll flop all out and he'll get the foul. He did that last year with Derrick, and Derrick ended up fouling out, too."

SURPRISE

Derrick Williams: UA's forward was instantly lethal inside as a freshman, but now he's also shooting 70.8 percent from three-point range. He doesn't qualify for the Pac-10 lead in conference games, having taken only five three-pointers and making four of them, but Williams has made 17 of 24 overall this season.

"Seventy percent, that's different," Romar said. "And it's not like he's taking seven out of 10, either. He's taken his fair share of threes."

Isaiah Thomas: When the Huskies lost Gaddy earlier this month, they didn't have to turn far to find a replacement at the point. They simply added the duties to everything Thomas was already doing. He's responded with a 2.3-to-1 assists-to-turnover ratio in Pac-10 games so far.

"People will say, "Can Isaiah do this particular thing?' or, in another situation, 'Can Isaiah do something else?' " Romar says. "He's just a guard that can do whatever you need him to do. Everybody knows his ability to score but now he's shown if he's supposed to be the playmaker, he can do that as well."

It isn't easy to pull that off, Miller says.

"You have to be a great, great player to be able to do both at that position," Miller said.

SUPPORT

Derrick Williams: Just imagine how nice it must be to roam the interior, knowing that defenders' minds, if not their bodies, are focused on stopping Williams, who has also proven to be a well-liked teammate.

UA forward Jesse Perry lives that dream every game.

"It's nice to have him out there," Perry said. "He draws two or three defenders. I know how many guys are going to guard him, and if he sees me open, I know he's going to get a ball (to me). It's chemistry."

Isaiah Thomas: The Huskies make 40.4 percent of their three-point shots, and Miller says Thomas has a lot to do with that.

Not just in the three-pointers he takes but in the open three-pointers he creates for others.

"Just looking at how he plays," Miller said, "it's that ultimate compliment: A player like that makes the game easier for his teammates."

On StarNet: Check out the Arizona Daily Star's interactive insider presentation for breakdowns of Arizona's games at Washington and Washington State at azstarnet.com/multimedia

TODAY

• Who: Arizona at Washington

• When: 8:30 p.m.

• TV: FSAZ

• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.



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