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Originally published February 11, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified February 13, 2007 at 11:28 AM

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Mitch Johnson playing less, but still happy

Mitch Johnson is no longer starting, and some nights he's barely even playing — he was on the court for just seven minutes Thursday...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Mitch Johnson is no longer starting, and some nights he's barely even playing -- he was on the court for just seven minutes Thursday at Washington State.

But the former O'Dea High star, a sophomore point guard for the Stanford Cardinal, isn't publicly fretting about his personal change of fortune.

"Obviously, any player would say he wants to play 40 minutes a game," said Johnson, who is back in town today as the Cardinal plays at UW at 4 p.m. in a game vital to both teams' NCAA tournament aspirations. "But basically I can only put the things on me that I can control. As long as we are winning games and different people are stepping up at different times, it's all good."

Johnson looked like a potential four-year starter when he burst into the Stanford lineup midway through his freshman season, starting the last 20 games of the year, and the first 12 of this season.

But after a home loss to California and with a trip to Virginia looming, Stanford coach Trent Johnson made a change in the lineup, going with both of the team's 7-foot freshmen, twins Brook and Robin Lopez, after Brook had recovered from a back injury.

Johnson was the odd man out as the Cardinal went with a bigger lineup that paid immediate dividends with a win at Virginia. He got one other start, but otherwise has seen his time become more situational, playing as little as five minutes, and as many as 30 off the bench with the Lopezes in the lineup for good.

"His role is still pretty much the same," says Stanford coach Trent Johnson. "He's just not starting games."

He might be, however, if his outside shooting was more dependable. With opponents increasingly sagging inside to defend the Lopez twins, Stanford's need on the perimeter is even greater to draw defenders back out. Johnson, however, is shooting just 10 of 37 (27 percent) on three-pointers and 35.7 percent overall.

"That's the one thing I've been working on and that I need to continue to do and have to do," Mitch Johnson said. "That's probably the scouting report from other teams to make him hit the outside shot and not let him get in the lane. That's probably something that other teams are letting me do."

Johnson, however, remains one of the better players in the conference when it comes to assist-to-turnover ratio -- he entered the week sixth in the Pac-10 at 1.77 with 78 assists against 44 turnovers. UW's Justin Dentmon, by comparison has 93 assists against 74 turnovers. And with the Huskies struggling at times at that spot, some have wondered if a more traditional point guard like Johnson wouldn't be a nice fit for UW.

Johnson, the son of former Sonic John Johnson, isn't among those wondering what if. He had his chances to come to UW -- he played on the same AAU team as Jon Brockman and the two often talked of playing together in college.

Johnson said his final two choices were Stanford and UW and that ultimately he just wanted to get away.

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"It had more to with school than basketball, to tell you the truth," he said.

By then, the Huskies had a commitment from Dentmon.

Dentmon has apparently emerged from his midseason fog to give the Huskies more consistent play at the point. Lost in the hoopla over the play of Brockman in a 79-71 win over California on Thursday was Dentmon's second half -- he played 18 minutes with eight points, three assists and no turnovers, finishing with 12 points, five assists and three turnovers in 34 minutes.

The Huskies will need more of the same tonight if they are to gain a victory in their latest "must-win" game. UW has taken four of five, but three came against the three Pac-10 teams now below them in the standings, with Stanford providing an opportunity to prove the revival has some substance.

No loss during UW's 1-6 conference start was more frustrating than the 78-77 defeat at Stanford Jan.11. The Huskies threw away a number of opportunities in the final 1:35, losing two turnovers and missing three of four free throws.

"We just need to make sure this game is a little more complete," said UW center Spencer Hawes.

NOTE

• UW's starting lineup could change again, with Hawes potentially moving back at center. Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar would say only that nothing is certain, pending performance in practices Friday and Saturday. "This is a fragile time right now," he said. "We've got to go with whoever is ready to go."

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