Sophomore Isaiah Washington likes to play fast.
His abilities came in handy during a Jan. 30 game against Illinois, a team known for stopping their opponents' set-offenses. In his second season, the game is starting to slow down for Washington and he's found a way to make a significant impact on the court.
"This was definitely a good match-up for me," Washington said following the 86-75 Gophers victory. "It was basically just one-on-one basketball. I'm a good player at that."
Against the Fighting Illini, Washington set season highs in both field goal attempts and field goals made, going 5-11 from the field. He finished the game with 12 points and four assists. Afterward, Washington said he thought it was one of his best performances at Minnesota.
"I played a lot more poised," Washington said. "I let the game come to me. I played 23 minutes today, so I had to take advantage of what was in front of me."
When head coach Richard Pitino is asked about Washington, playing time is often the topic of discussion; at times he has struggled to get off the bench. He never appeared in Minnesota's 59-52 victory against Wisconsin on Jan. 3. Against Arkansas State, he didn't play in the second half after shooting 0-4 in six first-half minutes.
Consistency is Washington's primary challenge. Three days after his poor performance against Arkansas State, he recorded his first career double-double with 14 points and 13 assists in a 80-71 victory against North Florida. Pitino is adamant that, when at his best, Washington brings an added dimension to the Gophers' offense.
"He creates his own shot," Pitino said. "I don't know if anyone else on our team can do that as well as he can. When he comes off the bench, he can provide value offensively."
Still, Washington's field goal average for players with at least 20 games played sits at a team-low of .315 this year. He has scored less than five points in more than 15 minutes of playing time in eight games this season.
Washington faced similar struggles after coming to Minnesota as a freshman with lofty expectations. In high school, he was named New York's "Mr. Basketball" — a title that has been held by several NBA players — and was a four-star, top-100 recruit.
Even before college, Washington was famous for his signature "jelly" layup. Clips of him playing his flashy style of street ball in New York City got millions of views on social media. He currently has more than 630,000 Instagram followers, dwarfing the team's 20,000. As one of Minnesota's highest-profile commits in recent memory, fans have had high hopes for Washington.
"Because of his social media status, he gets that burden of higher expectations than they probably need to be," Pitino said. "He's a good player and he's going to get better if he continues to learn and grow."
While Washington has provided glimpses of his growth on the court, he maintains he's improved significantly since last year in ways that don't always show up in the box score.
"I've slowed down," Washington said. "Last year, I always wanted to play fast. This year, I think I'm reading the defense a lot better."
One area where he's made statistically significant strides is assists. Washington has recorded a team-leading 75 assists through 21 games this season, the same number he had in 32 games last year.
With Washington on the court, the Gophers can spread the floor and play with a higher tempo. According to his teammates, he possesses all the skills of a great point guard. It's just a matter of putting everything together.
"Isaiah is a great ball handler," said junior Amir Coffey. "He's a good player all around. Just when he gets out of his head, he can do so much more. When he plays with that pace and that confidence that we know he can, he's a totally different player."