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Originally published Wednesday, February 6, 2013 at 6:18 PM

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Shawn Kemp Jr. starting to fulfill potential both offensively and defensively

Sophomore forward could be a big help for Huskies in Pac-12 race

Seattle Times staff reporter

Thursday

Washington @ UCLA,

6 p.m., ESPN

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Entering the second half of the Pac-12 men's basketball season, Shawn Kemp Jr. might be the X-factor in Washington's bid to repeat as regular-season champs.

The 6-foot-9 sophomore forward gained the confidence of the coaching staff during the European exhibition tour last summer, but suffered a setback when he tore a patella tendon in his left knee last fall and missed the first seven games.

Kemp made his season debut Dec. 8, but he had his breakout performance Jan. 26 at Oregon with 12 points on 5-for-5 shooting to go along with six rebounds and four assists in an 81-76 defeat.

Afterward, Kemp knew he was on to something.

"I feel like I can do that every night if I work at it," he promised.

Kemp needed minutes, but he was behind 6-7 sophomore Desmond Simmons on the depth chart.

"You got to make a decision sometimes," UW coach Lorenzo Romar said. "Which guy is going to improve the most and benefit the most and benefit the team by playing more? And we felt with Shawn that he has a lot of potential.

"We need to throw him in there and see what he does. Because if he begins to play with confidence and figures it out, then he can be a big, big piece in what we're trying to do."

Last Thursday, Kemp made his first UW start and finished with just seven points and one rebound in 20 minutes in a 57-53 defeat against Arizona.

Against Arizona State last Saturday, Kemp made Romar look like a genius for keeping him in the lineup. He made 9 of 14 attempts. He finished with a personal-best 18 points and six rebounds.

Kemp and 7-foot center Aziz N'Diaye pounded the Sun Devils inside, allowing the Huskies to dominate the boards 36-20 and win the game 96-92.

"He's doing now what we thought he could do," Romar said of Kemp. "He just had a setback because he was hurt."

Kemp will make his third start when UW (13-9, 5-4 Pac-12) plays at UCLA (16-6, 6-3) Thursday.

It's the second consecutive game he'll face an undersized opponent who is dangerous from outside.

Kemp had difficulty tracking ASU sharpshooter Jonathan Gilling, who finished with 22 points and six three-pointers.

At renovated Pauley Pavilion, Kemp likely will have to chase 6-7 freshman Kyle Anderson, who averages 9.4 points and 9.0 rebounds. He'll also have to contend with mobile forwards Travis Wear and David Wear.

Kemp admits he's more comfortable in the post and is learning how to defend on the perimeter.

Romar added, "It's not football where he plays defense and leaves the field. He plays offense too. They have to guard him, so let's see what the trade-off will be."

It's a small sample, but in the past three games Kemp is averaging 12.3 points and 4.3 rebounds, which are significant improvements from his season averages of 5.2 and 2.3.

"Playing with another big man definitely takes some of the load off of me and just gives us another weapon down there," N'Diaye said. "It's the first time we had that since me and (Matthew Bryan-Amaning) were playing together."

Kemp was supposed to immediately step in for Bryan-Amaning last season, but he described his first year at Washington as a learning experience.

When Kemp arrived at UW in 2011 after sitting out a year due to NCAA academic qualifying issues, he was rusty, overweight at 265 pounds and out of shape.

Midway through the season, he lost his spot in the rotation and he didn't play in the final two games.

After losing 15 pounds and adding confidence, Kemp could be the difference-maker for UW.

"Shawn gives us that dimension that we didn't have at the beginning of the season," Romar said. "We said all along that he was our best low-post scorer, and now he's starting to show it."

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

Conf. Win/Lose Comparisons

Stat 5-Wins 4-Losses

UW ppg 71.0 65.0

Opp ppg 63.2 71.5

UW FT% .785 .569

Opp FG% .428 .493

UW turnovers 56 (11.2) 62 (15.5)

C.J. Wilcox ppg 19.8 15.5

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