SEATTLE — Justin Dentmon sat for the majority of the game because of fouls. Instead of sulking, he soared — and lifted surprising Washington with him to the top of the Pac-10.
Dentmon returned from 23 minutes of idling to spark the decisive late run and freshman Isaiah Thomas scored 24 points to lead the resurgent Huskies to an 86-75 victory Saturday over 13th-ranked UCLA — and give the conference a new leader.
Jon Brockman rebounded from having zero field goals on Thursday to score 18 points and add eight rebounds for Washington (15-4), which won for the 13th time in 14 games to claim sole possession of the Pac-10 lead for the first time since January 2005.
“It put us up on top of the conference for today and so yes, you can’t get a bigger win than that,” Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said.
These go-go Huskies, the conference’s highest-scoring team, now have slashing guards to complement the pounding Brockman after having missed the NCAA tournament the last two seasons. They scored more points than anyone had this season against the rugged Bruins to win for the fifth consecutive time over UCLA in Seattle.
“This is a very good team that beat us today,” said Ben Howland, the first UCLA coach since John Wooden to win three consecutive league titles.
Washington is 6-1 in the conference for the third time in 25 years.
“It’s a great feeling,” Brockman said. “But there’s a lot of league season left.”
Josh Shipp scored a career-high 25 points but went scoreless for more than nine minutes of the second half for the Bruins (15-4, 5-2 Pac-10), who lost for the second time in three games. He isn’t about to concede UCLA’s conference reign, either.
“We’ll see at the end of the Pac-10,” Shipp said when asked if Washington was now the equal of UCLA.
There are troubling signs for the Bruins, who have been to three straight Final Fours. They have been getting pounded physically and struggling offensively. They lost last weekend at home to No. 17 Arizona State and escaped from Washington State on Thursday with a two-point win before Washington dominated them late.
“Right now, we just don’t have enough heart, basically,” UCLA freshman forward Drew Gordon said after scoring five points and getting a bruised knee from the face of the diving Brockman. “At the end of the day, the other team wants it more.
“I think this game was a good wake-up call. Hopefully, we’ll get hungrier.”
Dentmon finished with 16 points in just 17 minutes. Ten of those points came after he returned with 4:59 left from being on the bench for eight minutes with four fouls.
When Dentmon, who had scored at least 20 points in three of his last four games, sat with 12:39 remaining, Thomas was Washington’s only guard for a stretch. Yet “I.T.” was all good for the Huskies.
UCLA’s Nikola Dragovic, who had missed four of his first five shots after scoring 20 against Washington State, scored five consecutive points to tie the game at 58 midway through the second half. Then Thomas took over. Quincy Pondexter scored for Washington before Thomas made his third consecutive 3-pointer, this one from four steps behind the arc.
The sellout crowd roared, Thomas raised both arms and flashed two thumbs up while the UW students chanted “You can’t stop I.T.!” UCLA took a timeout down 63-58.
Darren Collison, who finished with 12 points on just 5-for-14 shooting, made two free throws to draw the Bruins within 67-66 with 6:13 remaining. But the Huskies scored the next 12 points, eight by Dentmon.
He turned his consecutive steals into points, then smoothly drove into the lane and scooped in two more with the shot clock running out to make it 76-66 with 2:50 remaining and effectively give the Pac-10 a new leader.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the player that I’ve been able to coach than I am right now of Justin Dentmon,” Romar said. “He got in early foul trouble … It would have been so easy for him to check out mentally. But he didn’t. He came back and immediately made his presence felt, immediately had an impact on us winning that game.”
The Huskies then danced like it was March inside their locker room.
“It’s crazy. Music’s up loud. Everyone’s jumping,” said Justin Holiday, who beat his brother Jrue in their first meeting besides on their driveway in suburban Los Angeles.
“It’s a good thing.”