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Originally published February 16, 2010 at 8:36 PM | Page modified February 19, 2010 at 4:31 PM

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3 UW juniors start to spread their wings

In search of the next Quincy Pondexter, a good place to start is University of Washington's junior class.

Seattle Times staff reporter

THURSDAY

USC at UW @ 7:30 p.m.

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In search of the next Quincy Pondexter, a good place to start is Washington's junior class.

Recently UW's junior trio — Justin Holiday, Matthew Bryan-Amaning and Venoy Overton — have played as if they're poised for a breakout similar to the one Pondexter had last season when he averaged 15.4 points in the final 14 games.

At first glance, you wouldn't think they could make the leap from being a role player — and in Overton's case a reserve — this season to being a Pac-10 Player of the Year candidate next season, but then the same was true for Pondexter.

"You can see actually all three of our juniors starting to take off now," coach Lorenzo Romar said. "All three of those guys are starting to turn the corner."

Since moving in the starting lineup Jan. 14, Holiday is averaging 7.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and 26.3 minutes. During that span, the Huskies are 7-3.

Admittedly, Holiday, a 6-foot-6 forward, started the season slowly because he didn't work out during the offseason and underwent sports-hernia surgery in September.

He was held out of a season-opening exhibition and played more than 20 minutes in just one of the first 13 games.

"I'd say sometime in December was when I could just play and be 100 percent as far as conditioning and being able to play and be explosively quick again," Holiday said.

Another setback came in early January when Holiday was ineligible for a pair of games in Arizona. The next week he made his first career start and has been a fixture in the lineup ever since.

Holiday's defense — teammates call him the Fireman — drew leaguewide attention after he shut down Washington's State's Klay Thompson and Arizona's Jamelle Horne, but he's made strides on the offensive end that's been largely unnoticed.

Most of his points are on putbacks or in transition, but he's slowly gaining confidence in a midrange jumper and will drive to the basket on occasion.

"One thing gets you on the court, and after that all other things fall into place," Holiday said. "The longer you're on the floor, the more comfortable you get."

The week before Holiday became a starter, Bryan-Amaning had his starting job taken away after surrendering 20 points and 14 rebounds to Oregon's Michael Dunigan in a 90-79 UW defeat.

Adding to the humiliation, Bryan-Amaning, who had the misfortune of following legendary Jon Brockman, was roundly criticized by Huskies fans on the blogs, chat boards and sports-radio talk shows.

"I never let any of that stuff get to me," Bryan-Amaning said. "Coach and I talked before the season, and he told me that I have to be myself and grow and develop at my own pace and not try to be anyone else.

"I knew people would say or write about how I compared to him, but coach told me to not worry about that stuff and just do what I do on the court."

Bryan-Amaning has averaged 12 points, six rebounds and 1.3 blocks in the past three games, the second-best three-game stretch of his career. He returned to the starting lineup last Saturday at Stanford and finished with 11 points and five rebounds in a 78-61 UW win.

"I think the biggest thing is that he's been focused and keeping things simple," assistant Paul Fortier said. "He's passing the ball out more. He's not trying to make something happen every time. ... And he's rebounding a lot better."

Overton, a 5-11 guard, also began the season as a starter before moving to the bench Dec. 19.

Initially the switch snapped him out of a scoring funk and he had a five-game streak of double-digit scoring. In the next five games, however, he averaged just 5.8 points.

His turning point may have been an 18-point outing at USC when the Trojans trounced the Huskies 87-61 last month. Since then, Overton is averaging 12.1 points, 3.4 rebounds and 3.3 assists in the past seven games.

"This is his second year in a row where this time of the year he's playing his best basketball," Romar said.

Overton continues to come off the bench, but his playing time has increased and he's finishing games in place of starting freshman Abdul Gaddy.

"With so much significance on the line, the veterans have been getting more minutes," Romar said.

Overton acknowledged similarities between his recent play and Pondexter's breakthrough last season.

"This time of the year, this is when Quincy really started doing his thing, (and) I think I'm playing a little bit better," Overton said. "Just getting older, I guess. Playing, staying aggressive and eventually things are going to fall your way."

Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or pallen@seattletimes.com

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