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January 7, 2011Isaiah Thomas talked about how weird it felt not seeing Abdul Gaddy on the court, running the Washington Huskies' offense.
"He controls everything and controls how we play," Thomas said of his close friend.
The Huskies took the court against the Oregon Ducks Thursday night without their usual starting point guard, who suffered a season-ending knee injury two days earlier.
And for many stretches during the first 20 minutes of play, the Huskies looked lost without him and played like they were in a daze.
In the end, however, the Huskies woke up and rode a career-best performance from true freshman Terrence Ross (25 points) and another big game from Thomas (20 points, nine assists, six rebounds) to defeat the Ducks, 87-69, before a vocal crowd of 9,692 at Hec Edmundson Pavilion.
The victory improved Washington's record to 3-0 in the Pacific-10 Conference and 11-3 overall.
"We played a little slow in the start because nobody really pressed us," Thomas said. "We were wondering what press they were going to be in and toward the second half, the coaches said, "Go out and play - be aggressive,' and we did that and had some good plays down the stretch."
It started out looking like another Washington romp.
Even with Gaddy on the bench wearing plain clothes, in the blink of an eye, Washington was ahead 7-0.
Venoy Overton, normally a huge spark off the bench, got the start in place of Gaddy at point guard. He was able to ignite the team early, but it didn't last long as Oregon started buckling down, disrupting the Huskies with its pressing defense.
The Huskies went into halftime ahead 39-33, and looked out of sync.
"They kind of lulled us to sleep with their press, and made us kind of stagnant," Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar said.
The Ducks came in hoping for a repeat performance of last season when they upset a Huskies team that at the time was No. 16 in the country. Oregon first-year coach Dana Altman figured the best shot for his Ducks (7-8, 0-3) to beat the No.23-ranked Huskies Thursday night was to press them on defense.
"We were more wary of what they were doing than instead of getting into the flow of our offense," said Huskies forward Matthew Bryan-Amaning, who added 13 points and eight rebounds.
But the one player who seemed immune to all this was Ross.
Ross, a true freshman from Portland, was a force to be reckoned with all night as he made 11 of 18 shots from the field, including three 3-pointers. While the majority of the team could not get it going, he scored 13 points in the first half.
Even though they had the lead, the Huskies were outrebounded by three in the first half, allowing Oregon to keep the game tight. Not much changed for a good portion of the second half.
"We put ourselves in a good position," Altman said. "It was a five-point game with 7 minutes to go."
With 4:33 left in the game, the Huskies decided they'd seen enough.
Ross made a back door cut and Thomas lobbed a pass for an alley-oop dunk that brought out a roar from the crowd.
Thomas then stole the ball at midcourt and took it for an acrobatic layup.
Oregon tried to catch the Huskies sleeping with a fastbreak, but the man of the night, Ross came from behind to a block a shot under the basket, sending Husky fans to another piercing cheer.
Ross ended the night with four rebounds, four steals and two blocks - and no turnovers.
Ross, almost an afterthought from Portland's Jefferson High School when the Huskies were trying to land his high school teammate Terrence Jones, is averaging 16.5 points per game in his first three Pac-10 games.
"I'm just settling down and getting used to it, not thinking so much." Ross said.
Romar put Ross in some great company, comparing his raw talent to former Husky standouts Brandon Roy and Spencer Hawes, both currently in the NBA.
Thomas was the other Husky star, scoring 14 of his 20 points in the final six minutes of the game, including the first dunk of his career.
"I have been waiting a long time for it," he said. "I always tell people, 'If I get a fast break, I'm going to dunk one,' but I've been too scared to miss. But this time I said, 'Well, oh well. I'm just going to try.'"
The Huskies also got 13 points from Scott Suggs, who made three of Washington's 10 3-pointers.
Oregon was led by forward Joevan Catron, who had a big game with 20 points and 10 rebounds, though the Huskies did outrebound the Ducks, 40-31.
Romar wouldn't say whether Ross would start against Oregon State Saturday. He said Overton started against Oregon because of the matchup that was presented.
Thomas also can shift to point guard in the event Ross would start.
No matter who starts, Ross is making it hard for Romar to sit him very long.