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Dawes makes contribution

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PROVO — He's sporting a cast on his left hand, and until a little more than a month ago, he hadn't played competitively in four years.

But at 6-foot-11 and 265 pounds, Derek Dawes has size and potential. Which is why the BYU basketball team is happy to have him — large frame, broken thumb and all.

Tuesday night at the Marriott Center, Dawes tied his career high with 10 points, pulled down nine rebounds and blocked two shots to help the Cougars earn a dominating 77-52 victory over Southern Utah.

"I thought Derek did some really good things tonight," said BYU coach Steve Cleveland. "He contested shots and most importantly gave us a lot of energy on the defensive end."

Overall, it was an adventuresome evening for the sophomore center, particularly near the basket and at the free-throw line. He missed a couple of easy layups and hit only 6 of 11 free throws.

"I'm just glad we won," Dawes said. "I could have done better. It's still a learning process. I have a long way to go."

At one point in the second half, he missed four consecutive shots at the charity stripe. "I was shooting too long on the first two," Dawes explained. "On the second two, I was short."

That"s when his teammate, point guard Austin Ainge, made a friendly suggestion. "Austin said, 'You're leaning back when you shoot," Dawes said.

The next time Dawes stepped to the line, he took Ainge"s advice and hit both attempts, which elicited from the crowd what well may have been the loudest cheer of the night.

Yes, Dawes remains a work in progress.

After playing in a reserve role as a freshman for one season, in 2000-01, Dawes left for an LDS Church mission to New Hampshire. When he returned, Dawes redshirted and battled with Rafael Araujo, who ended up being a first-round NBA draft pick last summer, in practice.

While Dawes is glad he redshirted and grateful for everything he learned from Araujo, the four-year layoff has been difficult. "The hardest thing is to relax and pretend you"re just playing with a bunch of buddies," he said.

Two weeks ago in practice, he was going up for a rebound when a teammate he said he doesn't know who it was — hit his left hand. At first, he thought his left thumb was jammed. It turned out to be a fracture. Dawes has worn a cast ever since and it will probably remain there throughout the rest of the season.

While the injury is painful, he's not about to let it keep him off the court.

"My thumb hurts," Dawes said, "but I'd rather play."

E-mail: jeffc@desnews.com