By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
SAN JOSE, Calif. — As University of Washington sophomore Isaiah Thomas took the court for Thursday’s NCAA tournament opener, he had on his purple uniform and his game face.
What he didn’t have was the glove.
The protective device that Thomas wore on an injured shooting hand was back in his locker at the San Jose site, having forgotten to wear it for the shootaround.
It’s safe to say that Thomas never missed it.
Thomas, who claims to have a fracture in the bone just under his left palm, didn’t look hampered by the injury Thursday. He hit 6-of-8 shots, including three 3-pointers, on the way to 17 first-half points. He finished with a team-high 19 points in UW’s 80-78 win over Marquette.
“Once we got going, and once we played, I didn’t even think about it,” he said.
Thomas wore the glove for the first half of the Pac-10 tournament championship game, but he ditched it at halftime because there was too much padding. He thought the bulky glove was forcing him to shoot off his palm, so he played the second half of that win over Cal without it and had a big shooting night.
On Thursday, he had smaller version that didn’t have nearly as much padding. But he left it behind and never missed it.
Head coach Lorenzo Romar said that the injury, which first happened in a loss to Cal more than a month ago, is one that hasn’t bothered Thomas on the court.
“It’s a big deal in terms of it is a nagging injury,” Romar said, “but in terms of affecting his play, it hasn’t affected him a whole lot.
“Sometimes he gets frustrated with (the glove), and he throws it out of the way. But he’s been able to play (with it).”
Locking it down
While the Huskies’ second-half comeback had a lot to do with some hot shooting over a 91/2-minute stretch, their effort on the other end of the court may have been an even bigger factor.
A smaller, quicker lineup helped force the Golden Eagles into four turnovers in five trips down the court.
Thomas switched over to defend hot shooter Darius Johnson-Odom, while 6-foot-8 Darnell Gant came off the bench and helped contain leading scorer Lazar Hayward.
“We needed a spark,” Gant said. “Wherever we could get it, we needed a spark. We got it at the defensive end.”
Quite a start
The San Jose regional got off to quite a start Thursday, with Murray State’s buzzer-beating upset of No. 4 seed Vanderbilt. Danero Thomas buried a 15-footer as time expired to give the Racers a 66-65 win.
“Let the madness begin,” Murray State coach Billy Murray said early Thursday afternoon, shortly after the 11 a.m. game ended.
The buzzer beater sent HP Pavilion into a state of hysteria. After Thomas nailed the game-winner, he ran to the other end of the court and was swarmed under a pile of teammates.
Among the players celebrating was senior B.J. Jenkins, who wore tape over a finger that he gashed while cutting down the nets after the Ohio Valley Conference tournament championship. Jenkins didn’t hesitate on being a part of another big celebration.
“I had to get in there,” he said.
The 14th-seeded Racers certainly had reason for celebration Thursday.
“This time of March, anybody can win,” said Isacc Miles, who set up Thomas for the game-winning shot. “There are no seeds, no upsets.”
So what did coach Kennedy think?
“It was an upset,” he said. “But we’ve got a good team.”
Horseshoes and hand grenades
UW’s Thomas hit a last-second shot of his own Tuesday, only this time it didn’t count.
After Marquette threw up an airball with the shot clock running out and three seconds left in the first half, Thomas picked up the loose ball and heaved it toward the other end.
The three-quarter-court shot swished through and drew a roar from the crowd, but it didn’t count. A buzzer had sounded after Marquette’s shot-clock violation, giving UW possession with about three seconds left in the half.
Thomas took an inbounds pass and dribbled across court, but his 40-foot shot at the buzzer clanged off the rim.
Among the UW fans who attended the game were Sacramento Kings players Jon Brockman and Spencer Hawes, who sat in the front row behind the press section while enjoying a practice-free day. Both are former UW players, and Brockman attended Snohomish High School.
“You get to see the game from a different perspective,” Brockman said after the Huskies beat Marquette 80-78 on Thursday evening. “I get more nervous (as a fan). Even before the game, I had butterflies. I’d rather be out there playing.”
But in the end, it was worth the two-hour drive.
“It’s huge,” he said of UW’s win.
Also rumored to be in attendance was former UW football coach Tyrone Willingham, who lives in the Bay Area.
Beasts of the East?
The Big East was widely regarded as the best conference in college basketball this season, but the league hardly lived up to its billing on Thursday.
Marquette was one of three Big East teams to fall Thursday, while a fourth barely survived the upset.
Third-seed Georgetown and seventh-seed Notre Dame lost to lower-seeded teams from mid-major conferences, while No. 2 seed Villanova needed overtime to escape No. 15 Robert Morris.
Four other Big East schools will play today: No. 1 seed Syracuse, No. 2 West Virginia, No. 3 Pitt and No. 9 Louisville.
Huskies senior Quincy Pondexter played in his 134th game at UW, breaking the school record set by Justin Dentmon last season. Pondexter also holds the school record for most career victories (86). … Pondexter had 18 points and 11 rebounds to record his 11th double-double of the season. … The Huskies stuck around for the first half of New Mexico’s 62-57 win over Montana on Thursday night. Gant and junior Justin Holiday admitted before that game that they didn’t know much about the Lobos, who will face UW in Saturday’s second round. … UW freshman Abdul Gaddy was one of 21 players added to the USA Under-18 tryout roster. Gaddy, who turned 18 in January, is the only current college player on the list. Kentwood High School star Joshua Smith is also among the players invited to the June tryout.