Gophers freshman Isaiah Washington finally showed everyone in the Big Ten what the hype was all about.
Washington, a 6-1 guard from Harlem, was named Big Ten freshman of the week Monday after averaging 20.5 points, 5.0 assists, 3.5 rebounds and shooting 55 percent from the field in losses at Iowa and Michigan last week.
Washington’s season-high 26 points on 11-for-16 shooting in Saturday’s 76-73 overtime loss in Ann Arbor were the most points for a Gophers freshman in Big Ten play since Kris Humphries in 2004.
The New York high school player of the year and co-founder of the Jell Fam movement is averaging 7.7 points, 2.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game this season.
“He’s starting to understand how to play,” Gophers coach Richard Pitino said Saturday. “He’s not shooting bunch of threes. He’s going guys. He’s playing harder. And that’s the key. It’s all habits with him. We know what we brought in. It’s just a matter of learning and growing.”
Pitino tried to teach him a lesson during a recent four-game stretch when Washington scored just six points in a combined 20 minutes. Washington eventually got more playing time in a 94-80 loss at Iowa last Tuesday. He finished with 15 points and seven assists in 32 minutes in Iowa City.
“His habits are getting better in practice,” Pitino said. “And that’s carrying over to the games. He’s just doing a better job there. It’s funny how that works.”
Pitino talked before the season about the possibility of Washington and senior guard Nate Mason playing together in the backcourt. With sophomore guard Amir Coffey (shoulder) out and junior Dupree McBrayer (leg) playing hurt, Washington and Mason might be the best scoring options Minnesota has on the perimeter. They combined for 48 points against Michigan, which included Mason's 22 points on 9-for-18 shooting.
Mason was too frustrated in defeat to say much Saturday on Washington. But junior forward Jordan Murphy was encouraged by Washington’s performance against Michigan.
“As he starts to play harder and practicing harder coach is giving him more opportunities,” Murphy said. “He showed today that when he plays hard, he’s a very talented player. So I’m looking forward to that in the future.”