P12 USC Arizona Basketball

Arizona’s Sam Thomas, left, hopes her season will continue after the Wildcats lost in the Pac-12 quarterfinals. UA is expected to play in the WNIT. “She is one of the most underrated players,” said UA coach Adia Barnes.

Arizona completed its run in the Pac-12 Tournament on Friday with a loss to top seeded Oregon, one day after trouncing USC in the opening round. The UA must now wait for a postseason bid. The NCAA Tournament and WNIT brackets will both be revealed March 18.

For Sam Thomas, that means more basketball. And that’s a good thing. Last week, the Wildcats’ sophomore forward became the first sibling in her basketball-mad family to play a conference tournament in her hometown of Las Vegas. Monday, it’ll be her older sister’s turn. Bailey Thomas and UNLV will take on Air Force in the Mountain West Conference Tournament, which is being held at Thomas & Mack Center.

Thomas’ family was in attendance during the Pac-12 Tournament. Thomas’ high school teammates and former teachers cheered on the Wildcats from behind their bench.

And how’s this for big time? Some of the large banners around the MGM Grand Garden Arena had Thomas’ likeness on them.

“It was crazy! When we pulled into the MGM and I saw my picture, and I was like, ‘Oh wow,’” she said. “Then people started tagging me on Instagram with the one near the gym. It was awesome to see my picture up there.”

Basketball runs deep in the Thomas family. Father Derek is a coach, younger sister Jade is a UNLV commit and brother Shane is a freshman playing on the varsity team at Centennial High School.

Thomas’ parents are in the middle of the marathon that is March for basketball families. And they couldn’t be happier.

“It’s the best time of year,” said Derek Thomas. “It’s a blessing to have two children playing in conference tournaments and looking for the postseason. And another one (Jade) headed to New York to play in the National Championship.

“(This week) it was like watching time stop. It was surreal and I was proud and excited. My wife (Julie) and I were talking about all the drives and sacrifices and look our kid is in Las Vegas playing in the Pac-12 Tournament. The game of basketball has been good to us.”

Both Sam and Bailey Thomas are sophomores who wear No. 14. (Bailey, the older one, transferred to UNLV from West Virginia). They’re both are good students — Sam Thomas carries a 4.0 GPA and was named First Team Academic All-District by CoSIDA, while Bailey carries a 3.96 and was also named CoSIDA Academic All-American.

They talk all the time.

“Now that she’s closer to home at UNLV, we are going through similar experiences,” Sam Thomas said. “We talk about the struggles of maintaining a 4.0 and missing home — even though she is in town.”

Thomas visited her parents’ house on Tuesday, and brought her entire team along. The Thomases’ next door neighbor, an Elvis impersonator, welcomed them at the door. Later, the team looked at Sam Thomas’ baby photos.

Saturday, Thomas enjoyed a day off. After playing back-to-back games, she earned her rest.

Thomas’ stat line in these two Pac-12 Tournament games were typical. She scored nine points, added three assists and grabbed one steal against Oregon. One day earlier against USC, she posted 10 points and three blocks. Thomas is the only player in the Pac-12 to average at least 1.7 steals and 1.1 blocks per game.

Coach Adia Barnes calls Thomas an invaluable part of the team and an underrated talent. The Wildcats (18-13, 7-11 in Pac-12) will be relying on her even more in the postseason — wherever that is.

“She does so many things that don’t show up in the stat sheet. It’s all the little things that matter,” Barnes said. “The last month she has so much more confidence and is more aggressive. She is looking to be more of a threat and that gives us more scoring options. She is attacking the rim better and this helps us be more successful. She is one of the most underrated players. She doesn’t get a lot of credit for what she does and she is really, really important. I love coaching her. She is that total package kid I always talk about. She is great on and off the court. We need her for our culture, and I love that about her.”