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Originally published Saturday, January 27, 2007 at 12:00 AM

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Dentmon, Huskies back on course

Justin Dentmon is the smallest Washington Husky, but perhaps the one carrying the biggest expectations. "He is a huge key to what we are...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Justin Dentmon is the smallest Washington Husky, but perhaps the one carrying the biggest expectations.

"He is a huge key to what we are doing," Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said of the 5-foot-11 sophomore point guard.

Maybe the problem was the weight of that responsibility, which last year was shouldered primarily by Brandon Roy. Or trying to impress NBA scouts. Or simply getting too comfortable with his place in college basketball.

Whatever it was, something held Dentmon down the last few weeks, dragging the Huskies along with it.

That he finally surfaced on the same night the Huskies may have begun to revive their season is no coincidence. As Dentmon goes, the Huskies figure to go. That became glaringly evident Thursday night when he scored a career-high 24 points in leading Washington to a much-needed win over Oregon at Edmundson Pavilion.

Given a rare height advantage while matched up against Oregon's 5-6 Tajuan Porter, the Huskies guard hit 8 of 15 shots and 8 of 10 free throws, along with seven assists, six rebounds and three steals. But he also had six turnovers, showing there is room for improvement.

Dentmon said the true test of whether that victory can help turn Washington's season around comes today when the Huskies host Oregon State at 1 p.m.

"If we win, then I'll say we've turned a corner," Dentmon said.

Still, the sophomore believes he has already changed the course of his own season.

He had been benched for the five games before the Duck feast. Romar decided that of all of Dentmon's perceived ills -- mistimed shots, sloppy passes, lax defense -- the most glaring was that he simply wasn't playing hard enough.

"That's where it starts," Romar said.

It's a charge Dentmon readily accepts.

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"He [Romar] said, 'You start playing hard and getting after it again, then I'll put you back in the lineup,' " recalled Dentmon. "He threw the challenge out there and I took it."

Coaches told Dentmon they need him to be aggressive, to pull the defense out and make it react.

But Romar told Dentmon the aggression had to come "with a purpose."

Romar pointed out that Dentmon's 2-for-14 shooting night against Gonzaga early in the season came when the guard said, "I'm going to be aggressive to score." Against Oregon, Romar said Dentmon changed his focus to "I'm going to be aggressive and see what happens."

Added Romar, "Against good teams, when you decide to be aggressive to score, you bring more stress on yourself."

Not that he didn't have enough already.

Dentmon, a native of Carbondale, Ill., has admitted having eyes on the NBA to help support his family. He is the oldest of six children being raised by a single mother.

With Roy and others gone, and the opportunities to be in the spotlight now greater, Dentmon admits he might have fallen a bit to temptation earlier in the season.

"I was reading the papers and the Internet and that stuff, and it got to me a little bit," he said. "I think that's when my slump started happening. After a while, I just stopped listening and reading that stuff and started telling myself not to go out there to play for everybody else, but to play for yourself and your teammates."

He acknowledged Friday that he will probably be at Washington for a while, maybe all four seasons.

"I'm still confident" of an NBA career, he said. "But whatever happens, happens. I'm going to take baby steps."

The Huskies as a team, however, need to do more than that after digging a deep hole in their hopes to qualify for a school-record fourth straight NCAA tournament. Beating No. 7 Oregon was regarded as a must-win for Washington (12-7 overall, 2-6 Pac-10).

But today's game, continuing a string of five of seven at home, might be even more critical because it comes against a floundering Beavers team that any squad with tournament aspirations has to beat.

Dentmon knows what will happen if he lets up today.

"I experienced it and it's something I don't ever want to go through again," he said of his benching. "It's like a kid when you touch a stove when it's hot. You don't want to go there again, knowing it's going to burn you."

Notes

• Romar said the starters won't change, with Spencer Hawes coming off the bench until he's healthy.

• When the UW student section began chanting "overrated" at the Ducks late in the game, Romar motioned to stop. The students complied. The coach said that at 18-1 entering the game, Oregon couldn't be called overrated. He added that if Oregon is overrated, "What does that say about us, then?"

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com. His blogs: www.seattletimes.com/huskies

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