By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
SAN JOSE, Calif. — The New Mexico men’s basketball team finally figured out a way to cool down red-hot University of Washington sophomore Isaiah Thomas on Saturday.
“They tried to take my left hand off,” Thomas joked after suffering a nasty cut on his left wrist midway through the first half of Saturday’s 82-64 win over the Lobos.
Of course, the ice-down was only temporary. Thomas recovered from the injury to hit back-to-back 3-pointers within 41 seconds of each other as UW raced out to a 34-23 lead with six minutes left in the first half Saturday. New Mexico got within nine points — but no closer — as the Huskies blew out the East Region’s third seed to advance to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.
In two tournament games, Thomas has hit 7-of-12 shots from 3-point range, including a 4-of-7 performance Saturday.
After scoring 15 points against the Lobos, he kept a level head about the recent success.
“We have more work to do,” Thomas said. “We’re happy about it, we’re going to celebrate, but once the new week starts, it’s back to work.”
From ATM to the Big Dance
Eldridge Recasner never did it. Neither did Spencer Hawes or Doug Smart.
Brendan Sherrer had two chances to pull off a feat that some of the best players in the program’s history had failed to do, and yet he couldn’t close the deal.
Sherrer, a sophomore walk-on from Monroe and a graduate of Archbishop Murphy High School, had a chance to score in an NCAA tournament game on Saturday. He had two, in fact, but missed both of his free throws.
“Pretty nervous,” Sherrer said of how he felt when he went to the free-throw line after being fouled with 1:06 remaining in a blowout victory. “I haven’t been shooting too much lately. Pretty nervous.”
Sherrer has been hospitalized twice in the past month for viral meningitis, and so he hasn’t practiced much in recent weeks. There was even a concern as to whether he would be available to play, should the Huskies want to put him into an NCAA tournament game.
But after head coach Lorenzo Romar consulted with trainers while several UW bench players pleaded with him to put the walk-on into the game, Sherrer was finally inserted with 1:26 remaining.
Asked whether he ever expected to see action in an NCAA tournament game, Sherrer said: “I try to keep an open mind. I hoped, but anything can happen in this tournament. It was just an incredible experience coming in (to the game).”
Freshman Clarence Trent, who also rarely gets into games unless they are blowouts, also saw action in Saturday’s game.
“It’s tremendous,” Romar said of getting all his available players into the game. “You can just see the joy on their faces: they get an opportunity, too.”
Cinderella loses her grip
The final seconds of the early game were looking awfully familiar to Murray State fans.
The 13th-seed Racers had hung with a higher-seeded opponent and trailed Butler by two points with time running out.
Murray State, which had beaten No. 4 Vanderbilt on Danero Thomas’s buzzer beater two days earlier, had the ball at the top of the key with a chance to win or send the game into overtime. Thomas was open at the top of the key, but teammate Isaiah Canaan lost control of the ball with three seconds left, and time ran out as players from both teams battled for it in the backcourt.
“I’m pretty sure it was in the back of everyone’s mind what they did to Vanderbilt,” Butler senior Willie Veasley said after the 54-52 win. “(The goal was) just to contain their guards and make sure they didn’t get open.”
Bulldogs teammate Matt Howard called it “a buzzer-beater shot block.”
Representing the Pac
UW senior Quincy Pondexter said Saturday’s win, and the subsequent berth in the Sweet 16, might help quiet the doubters of the Pac-10 Conference.
“I think a lot of people had bad judgments about our conference and the (Pac-10 teams’) nonconference season,” he said. “But once we got to Pac-10, a lot of players that were young started to play tough basketball.
“It was tough, not a pushover league, and we had to battle every game.”