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Originally published Sunday, November 18, 2007 at 12:00 AM

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Romar: UW won't overlook Eastern

Before the Washington Huskies head east, they have to play Eastern. While Huskies fans may be looking toward Washington's appearance this...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Before the Washington Huskies head east, they have to play Eastern.

While Huskies fans may be looking toward Washington's appearance this week in the NIT Season Tip-Off semifinals in New York, UW has its sights set only on Eastern Washington, with the Eagles coming to Edmundson Pavilion for a 3 p.m. game today.

The contest was scheduled in part as a defense against Washington not qualifying for the NIT semifinals and making sure the Huskies wouldn't have gone almost two weeks without games.

The past two years a game with Eastern has meant an appearance by guard Rodney Stuckey, which was enough in itself to catch the attention of UW players.

But Stuckey is gone, having been drafted in the first round by the Detroit Pistons, and the Eagles are rebuilding under first-year coach Kirk Earlywine. They're off to a 1-2 start, losing to Washington State and New Mexico before beating UC-Riverside 59-51 on Thursday.

On paper, it sounds like the quintessential "look-ahead" game.

Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar admits "that's the natural thing" for someone to wonder about.

But Romar has always resisted the notion of his teams not focusing on the task at hand.

"This is one of those situations where if we don't play well, it won't be because we're looking past Eastern Washington," Romar said, adding that "over the years here, we have rarely done that."

Indeed, UW is 36-3 in nonconference home games under Romar and hasn't lost one since his second season, an 86-62 defeat to Gonzaga on Dec. 3, 2003. Washington has won 29 in a row since then.

Romar calls Eastern "a quick and scrappy team," which should be a good matchup for the group that is solidifying itself as Washington's backcourt — juniors Joel Smith and Justin Dentmon alongside freshman Venoy Overton at the point. Overton, a Franklin High grad, is averaging 6.0 assists after the first two games.

But Romar says it's still too early to say anything is in concrete about UW's rotation. Wednesday night against Utah, for instance, freshman Justin Holiday came off the bench to play the final 11 minutes, helping shut down Utes guard Stephen Weigh and illustrating that he is deserving of more time.

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"He showed he can come in and help us win ballgames," Romar said. "I would say he earned himself our confidence in that game to where I'm not going to tell you he'll be in there 25 minutes next game, but he has definitely gotten our attention, I'll say it that way."

Eastern has just three players remaining from last year's team, which finished 15-14 and failed to qualify for the six-team Big Sky Conference tournament. Among them is 6-4 senior forward Kellen Williams, who is averaging 11.3 points.

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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