The game is beginning to slow down for Isaiah Washington

After ups and downs, the sophomore feels he’s improving this season.

Sophomore Isaiah Washington shoots from the top of the key at Williams Arena on Wednesday, Jan. 30. The Gophers beat the Illinois Fighting Illini 86-75.

Tony Saunders

Sophomore Isaiah Washington shoots from the top of the key at Williams Arena on Wednesday, Jan. 30. The Gophers beat the Illinois Fighting Illini 86-75.

Nick Jungheim

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.