Sam & Jade Thomas loving sisters but will be highly competitive when Arizona plays UNLV

UNLV’s Jade Thomas and Arizona’s Sam Thomas will be on opposing teams when the Lady Rebels play the Wildcats on Saturday in the first round of the NCAA tournament at McKale Center (Jade Thomas photo by UNLV Athletics and Sam Thomas photo by Arizona Athletics)

Jade Thomas mentioned with a laugh that her sister Sam Thomas is the instigator of the family when interviewed more than a week ago at UNLV.

Sam tweeted with an angel emoji in response: “Jade, it’s not polite to lie. Never instigated a fight.”

That comment drew this response from their mother Julie: “No, you only broke your brother’s arm.”

When the sisters joined the media from Tucson and Las Vegas for a press conference over Zoom on Wednesday, the question had to be asked about what happened when their brother Shane broke his arm.

“My family is full of liars,” Sam said with a laugh.

She then explained what happened:

“Well, what happened was, we’re all watching Jade’s soccer game and me and my brother — Jade was 8 or something like that — so it wasn’t very exciting. So me and my brother were just racing each other. We raced each other from end to end of the soccer field. And then I said, ‘Okay, I’ll race you and the first one to sit in the chair’ — you know, the little lawn chairs that everyone brings to the soccer field — I said, ‘Whoever gets there first, wins.’ So we were both running and he beat me a little bit on the run. So I pulled the chair out from under him when he tried to sit down and he ended up grabbing me, pulling me down with him. He fell on the back of his arm and ended up breaking his arm, but I wouldn’t call that an instigator. I would call it, ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events,’ and so I’m definitely not an instigator.”

Sam went on to say that she did not know where Jade got that she was an instigator of the family.

“I love the peace and harmony in my family,” Sam said with a laugh. “So Jade, I don’t know where you’re coming with that. But if you want to elaborate, please.”

Jade answered smiling, “No, no, no, no, no. She is the instigator. And everyone in my family can back that up because she knows how to push people’s buttons. And so she does it to her advantage.”

The Basketball Gods have made the the entire Thomas family and fans from Arizona and UNLV smile as well.

They made it possible for the siblings to face each other in the first round of the NCAA tournament at McKale Center on Saturday when No. 4-seeded Arizona (20-7) plays No. 13 UNLV (26-6) at 7 p.m. on ESPN2. The game follows the 4:30 p.m. first-round game between No. 5 North Carolina (23-6) and No. 12 Stephen F. Austin (28-4).

Sam is a fifth-year senior with Arizona while Jade is in her second season at UNLV.

They have played and practiced with each other before when they were teammates at Centennial High School in Las Vegas. Sam was a senior in 2016-17 when Jade was a freshman.

Jade has also commented that she and Sam often played 2-on-2 basketball against each other growing up with oldest sister Bailey and Shane. They’ve been around basketball all their lives with their dad Derek a long-time men’s college basketball coach at Western Illinois and UNLV and a youth basketball coach in the Las Vegas area.

Their time together on a basketball court is extensive.

Add to that their competitiveness, and Saturday’s matchup against each other should not be too difficult to handle for them.

“I think it’s just going to help us realize that although there’s so much hype — sisters, March Madness — we’re just going to be able to realize that it’s just another basketball game,” Sam said. “We’re gonna stick to our fundamentals. We’re gonna stick to what the coaches have taught us this entire year. Nothing’s gonna change..

“The opposite team that I am playing against just happens to have my sister on it. I think just knowing that we’ve been with each other for so long — I think we have pretty good basketball IQs — just sticking to that, doing the game plan and not focusing on that’s my sister over there, just realizing until the clock reaches 0:00, then I can go give my sister a hug.”

Jade is a captain for UNLV and Sam has the same role at Arizona, so they will meet each other at midcourt with the referees before the game starts.

“If they call captains, we’re both gonna go up there, maybe crack a little joke, but after that, it’s like gametime,” Jade said.

Sam was selected for the second consecutive year as an CoSIDA Academic All-American on Wednesday. She has a history of high accolades and is adored in the Tucson community.

She is Arizona’s career leader in games started and played (125). She is also 10th in career scoring (1,135), third in made 3-pointers (171), fourth in 3-point percentage (.361), second in career blocks (169) and fourth in career steals (220).

Jade is carving a niche of her own playing for hometown UNLV and earning all-freshman honors last season with the Lady Rebels.

She is one of coach Lindy La Rocque’s key reserves averaging 12.6 minutes per game.

Although she and Sam said they will be focused on the game after the tip, Jade mentioned that because Sam is established and admired in Tucson coming into McKale Center to play her sister in front of a partisan Arizona crowd could add some pressure for her to play well.

“I’m coming into Tucson, McKale Center, that’s almost sold out every game and everyone loves Sam,” Jade said. “It’s kind of a lot of pressure because I don’t want everybody to be like, ‘Oh my gosh, Sam is so great.’ And then, ‘Jade’s like, eh — it’s kind of hard because I want everyone to respect me, obviously.

“I know how adored and loved Sam is in the community, so it is a little pressure coming into Tucson.”

Sam said pressure on her comes in the form of making sure her sister does not score on her if she defends her.

“It’s Thomas vs. Thomas, but at the end of the game, it’s the first round of the March Madness tournament, and that’s what we have to focus on,” Sam said. “Obviously, it’s insane that we’re playing each other. But just knowing that I don’t want like Jade to come in the game and let’s say I’m guarding her and she scores and everyone says, ‘Did she let her sister score or what’s going on?’

“I don’t want that to happen. I just want everyone to know we’re going in there with the other team, the enemy and we’re trying to do everything we can to win, obviously. Off the court, it’s all love and hugs, but on the court, we’re gonna do what we can to win.”

Those hugs will include Jade embracing Sam’s dog Proxy, which she calls her niece.

Sam said parents Derek and Julie have the evening planned in terms of how they will handle the situation of their daughters playing each other.

“Conversations have been like, ‘No hard feelings, we’re gonna cheer for everybody. If you see us sharing in one moment of the game, don’t take it personally,'” Sam said. “They’re going to be representing the (school’s) outfits equally. They’re gonna be cheering for us equally. I just think at the end the day, my mom was saying, ‘Obviously, you’re only as happy as your saddest kid.’

“So they’re going to congratulate the winner, and then my mom is going to be there to hug the loser. They will let Jade know that it’s okay, there’s next season, and for me, moving on to my next career level or whatever I want to do.”

FOLLOW @JAVIERJMORALES ON TWITTER! publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports,, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District.

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