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Thomas sisters prepare to face each other in NCAA Tournament

Derek Thomas is in an unusual situation. Saturday, two of his daughters will play against each other in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Tucson, Arizona.

Jade is a sophomore for No. 13 seed UNLV, while Sam is a senior for No. 4 Arizona. Now, Derek and his family have to figure out who will wear which team’s colors while sitting in the stands at the McKale Center.

“We’re going to cheer for both teams,” Thomas said. “Like my wife said, ‘One’s going to be happy after the game, one’s going to be sad.’ We’ll go have dinner and smile and reflect on it.”

The sisters have had very different seasons. Sam has started every game for Arizona, averaging 8.5 points while shooting 42.9 percent from the field and 42.5 percent from 3-point range. She made the Pac-12 All-Defensive team.

Jade battled a shoulder injury for most of the season, appearing 19 times for UNLV after being named to the All-Mountain West freshman team during the 2020-21 season.

For the past decade, the Thomas family has been one of the most influential in the Las Vegas prep basketball scene. Sam won two Class 4A titles at Centennial, and Jade won four. Their older sister Bailey Thomas starred at West Virginia and UNLV, and their younger brother Shane Thomas plays at Durango.

Sam and Jade’s connection is particularly strong. They played on the same teams growing up since they were close in age, and Derek said they shared a room for years.

Karen Weitz coached both sisters at Centennial. She says Sam and Jade’s relationship has been that way for as long as she’s known them.

“What you see is genuine,” Weitz said. “They really want to see each other succeed. They support each other.”

This time though, Sam and Jade will play against each other in front of a national TV audience. “The only team I wanted to play was Arizona,” Jade said.

While the 5-foot-10-inch UNLV sophomore is looking forward to competing with her sister, she’s also excited to spend time with her family, something which has become harder as the sisters pursue their basketball dreams. However, those sentiments haven’t prevented Jade from trash-talking Sam in the family group chat.

For the sisters to even be on this stage is a testament to their hard work and dedication. Weitz remembers the pair asking for the keys to the Centennial gym to shoot and work out less than 24 hours after winning a state championship, exemplifying the sisters’ desire to improve.

Derek, who coached basketball at several colleges including UNLV, said Saturday’s game is a testament to their work ethic and sacrifice.

“It’s an exciting time,” he said. “Very proud and appreciative to have this opportunity to be Division I athletes, play on winning teams and get to an NCAA Tournament. It’s icing on the top that they get to play against each other.”

While the sisters are excited to face each other, they also know someone’s season is about to end. They’re trying to keep the game in perspective. Both are excited at least one of them will play in the second round.

“We’re very close-knit,” Jade said. “My family is my favorite people in the whole wide world. I always want to see them go far, so if it’s not me going far, I’m happy that it’s my sister going further.”

UNLV (26-6) and Arizona (20-7) will play in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at 7 p.m. Saturday.

Contact reporter Andy Yamashita at ayamashita@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ANYamashita on Twitter.

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