The Huskies' superb senior captain is off to a blazing start to the 2015-2016 season after a white hot shooting performance last Tuesday evening versus the Horned Frogs of TCU. The unheralded recruit from Portland’s Benson Tech had the most productive month in his Washington career during November, one that saw him earn Pac-12 Player of the Week honors after averaging 23.7 points and 10 rebounds per game during the Battle for Atlantis.
A week later, Andrews leads the Pac-12 scoring chart after a 32-point performance against Texas Christian and doesn't look like he will slow down any time soon.
The speedy Andrews has been a fixture in Washington's rotation since his freshman season when he averaged 24.4 minutes per game. Since then he’s quietly emerged as one of the most productive guards in the program's history. Unfortunately his success has gone largely unnoticed, coinciding with the worst four-year stretch of Lorenzo Romar's 14-year tenure at Montlake.
That will change this season.
Through eight games, Andrews has been sensational, leading the conference in scoring while ranking among the league leaders in nearly every statistical category; 22.1 points, 7.4 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.4 steals and .455 from three, while boasting a 1.9 assist-to-turnover ratio. He is on pace to finish his career as one of the top-10 career scoring leaders in Husky history.
While Andrews may be peaking offensively this season, it’s his work on the defensive end that has the Huskies rolling. Flanked by a roster full of players brand-new to Washington's system - including seven true freshmen, Andrews has fully embraced his role as the team's defensive tone-setter, as evidenced by the teams breakout first half against TCU.
“He set it right away,” said Romar, speaking to the media after their 92-67 win. “Everyone wants to be critical of Andrew. They better think again. He was engaged. He ran the team. He played exceptional basketball.”
Andrews has been a lightning rod for criticism during his three previous seasons, though his effort on the court has never been in dispute. Some of that criticism probably had to do with the similarities with former backcourt running mate Nigel Williams-Goss, who never really clicked together in their two seasons anchoring Washington's backcourt.
Stylistically similar in their approach on offense, both were inefficient scorers during their time together. Williams-Goss shot 44 percent from the field and 25 percent on three point attempts, while Andrews shot 43 percent from the floor and 38 percent from behind the arc. It made for an ineffective combination considering the duo were the team's volume shooters. Williams-Goss's transfer to Gonzaga has clearly had a dramatic impact on Andrews, who has emerged as one of the most efficient offensive players in the Pac-12.
True, the Huskies early season success had much to do with their explosive newcomers, but Andrews has been the engine underneath the brand-new exterior. He won't admit it, though, and is reluctant to take credit despite his obvious impact on the lineup.
“Everybody is playing with energy,” he said earlier this week. “Sometimes when it’s not me it can be Dejounte (Murray) or someone else that’s bringing the energy. Lots of guys on the team that want that leadership role, and that’s good.”
Andrews pin-pointed the reason for their eye-opening success against TCU: forcing turnovers, creating havoc, boxing out, getting in lanes. “We didn’t have to run too much offense because we had so many transition opportunities because of our defense,” he said.
Which is exactly how Romar’s system is supposed to look.
Andrews's growing legacy at Washington puts him in rarefied air with one UW legend in particular.
"This is the kind of stuff Isaiah (Thomas) used to do,” said Romar.
Despite a big size difference, the connection between Andrews and IT makes sense. They both play at the edge of control, lightning quick laterally and built like tailbacks, and extraordinarily effective attacking the basket, finishing through contact and drawing fouls.
And they get to the free throw line. A lot.
Andrews has attempted nearly double the free throw attempts of any of his Pac-12 peers; 67 free throw attempts as of Friday – 27 more than the next closet Pac-12 player. Defensively, they play with the same recklessness and boundless energy, and the statistics back the comparison: Isaiah averaged 16.8 points, 3.5 rebounds, 6.1 assists, 1.3 steals per game, and a whopping 210 free throw attempts his last year at Washington; Andrews is averaging 22.1 points, 7.4 rebounds, 3.8 assists, and 1.4 steals per game and is on pace to attempt more than 220 free throws.
“He’s like a bully at the guard position,” said Romar, matter-of-factly.
“I Knew he could score and shoot, but he’s stepped up his defense,” added standout freshman teammate Baby Boy Murray. “He’s adjusted really well. Rebounded better than I thought. He’s creating for others, leading us the way he should be. We didn’t get to play much with Andrew during the summer, but we’re adjusting to each other well and figuring each other out.”
Andrews is letting the game come to him this season. The Huskies blew out Montana Saturday despite a fairly pedestrian (by his standards) 12-point performance from the senior guard. He took just nine shots in the game, setting the table for his teammates and suffocating the overwhelmed Grizzlies backcourt on defense.
Nobody would have faulted Andrews for taking advantage of the fifth-year post-graduate transfer rules during this off-season's roster reconfiguration, but Andrews stayed resolute in his commitment to the Huskies.
“I haven’t found it difficult,” he responded recently when asked if he had considered moving on. “I’ve always been the guy to stick around no matter what.”
His commitment to Washington is laudable, and paying off for both himself and the Huskies. If Andrews's importance to Washington Basketball could be measured in nautical terms, he is equal parts rudder, stabilizer, bilge, and motor. In short, he’s whatever the Huskies need him to be at any given point.
Andrews has plenty of unfinished business ahead. The Huskies started out 13-0 last season, so he well understands the danger or putting too much stock in their hot non-conference start.
“To be honest I think it’s different because we aren’t worried about our record,” he said, sounding every bit the wizened veteran he has become. “We’re just worried about the next game. If we doing what we’re supposed to do the results will come. it’s just fun to be around them. The environment is goofy and we joke around, almost too much. It keeps the environment light.”
But Andrews goal this season is no joke. As it stands today, Andrews holds the dubious distinction of being the most productive Husky under Romar to have never played in an NCAA Tournament game. The way the Pac-12 non-conference schedule has gone, there’s no clear-cut frontrunner, just a bunch of good teams. The Huskies has certainly played their way into the league conversation.
Asked how big a motivating factor the NCAA Tournament is for Andrews, Romar didn't mince words.
“Oh sure it is," he said. (Andrews) has a huge chip on his shoulder. He’s always had that.”