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Originally published Sunday, January 20, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Steve Kelley

Young pups make the difference for UW men

Washington was heading in the wrong direction. Heading toward its worst loss in the Lorenzo Romar era. Trailing conference bottom feeder...

Seattle Times staff columnist

Washington was heading in the wrong direction. Heading toward its worst loss in the Lorenzo Romar era. Trailing conference bottom feeder Oregon State by five points, inside the final five minutes.

Freshman point guard Venoy Overton was stripped of his dribble on one possession, then rushed a jumper on the next.

Hec Ed was hushed and the fans were antsy. The young Huskies were acting their age and a must-win, a rare gimme game in the Pac-10 Conference was slipping away.

But what could have been an apocalyptic Saturday afternoon for the Huskies turned instead into another encouraging glimpse into the future.

The kids led the Huskies to 83-74 win. The kids rescued this game. The kids were the difference.

"Being freshmen, those guys [Overton, Matthew Bryan-Amaning] are going to have their ups and downs," senior guard Appleby said. "But they're starting to come through and really play well for us. Venoy sees the floor really well, but he also pushes the ball really well, too."

Like it or not, the future of Washington basketball is brighter than the present.

That isn't to say the Huskies can't win enough games to sneak into the NCAA tournament like they did in 2004, but the road back is mined with challenges.

Even Oregon State isn't a gimme game.

Against the Beavers, junior Jon Brockman was an eruptive and disruptive presence with 26 points, 14 rebounds. But it was the kids — freshman big man Bryan-Amaning earlier in the second half, and Overton and sophomore forward Quincy Pondexter in the last five minutes — who quick-twitched this game into a win.

In a game that often resembled something from the UFC octagon, Pondexter hit a jumper in the paint. Overton pushed the ball, found Tim Morris for a drive on one possession, then wiggled into the lane and fed Brockman inside on the next.

Pondexter scored on a pass from Brockman. Overton pestered Josh Tarver into a turnover, then Pondexter passed to Brockman, and Washington had a three-point lead with 2:17 left.

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In the final five minutes, when Washington had to make plays, the ball always was in Overton's hands and he was in the middle of everything good.

"Venoy's decision-making has improved immensely," Romar said. "Just give Venoy a couple of turnovers a game. Just give it to him. Let him have those. He's going to make more positive plays than he is negative. When he's playing freely he really has an impact on the game.

"He kind of picks his spots a little more now, but yet he's always trying to be aggressive and always trying to push the action. That's a great sign of maturity."

Against Oregon State, Overton had seven assists and only three turnovers. He also had three steals in 25 minutes.

"When Venoy has the ball in his hands, he's such a dangerous person," Brockman said. "If you see him with the ball, you always have to keep an eye on him because that thing might be coming and hit you right in the side of the face. It's a great thing, and I'll keep looking as long as he keeps passing."

It would be unfair to call this a rebuilding year. Romar and his players certainly aren't thinking such thoughts.

The Huskies are 11-7, but they're heading for a difficult weekend in Arizona, with a 2-3 Pac-10 record. They almost have to win all of their home games and sneak in at least two road victories to have any chance at the NCAA tournament.

But a win like Saturday's is sweetened by its glimpses into the future.

In a one-minute blur in the second half, 6-foot-9 Bryan-Amaning spun baseline and scored inside, definitively swatted Calvin Haynes at the rim, then ran the floor and converted at the other end for a five-point lead.

Bryan-Amaning has given UW another low-post presence and slowly is making Brockman's life easier. In 18 minutes against Oregon State he was 6 for 10 from the field and had 12 points, seven rebounds and a block.

"Matthew's been playing really well in practice ... and now you're starting to see it carry over," Appleby said. "He's a big kid and he's really athletic, and he has good moves down there. Now the ball's starting to fall for him, and he's getting more confidence."

With an excellent recruiting class coming next season, with Overton and Bryan-Amaning playing here for three more years and Pondexter for two more, and with one last hurrah before the NBA for Brockman, the future feels secure.

The Huskies aren't rebuilding, but on a day that teetered on the brink, the loyalists inside Hec Ed could peek into the future and see something good emerging from this near-disaster.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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About Steve Kelley
Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
skelley@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2176

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