Updated Sunday, February 3, 2013 at 12:31 AM
When Andrew Andrews catches an outlet pass and attacks the defense, he does so as if he'll never get an opportunity to play basketball again. It is an urgent endeavor, for sure.
He's a blur. He's a joy and a concern all at once as he races down the court, ready to make a play. Fail to account for Andrews, and he'll streak to the basket. Pay too much attention to him, and he'll penetrate and find an open shooter. Confuse him, and he'll force it at times, but even during the bad moments, you can't deny Andrews this: He is an initiator on a laid-back team. There is a fire within him that the Washington men's basketball team desperately needs to maintain.
On Saturday night, in a game tailor-made for his aggressive style, Andrews was a star, continuing his rapid ascent from mere redshirt freshman to vital role player. And if his breakout 20-point game wasn't enough, another unlikely hero joined him in the Huskies' 96-92 victory over Arizona State at Alaska Airlines Arena.
While Andrews dazzled on the perimeter, sophomore Shawn Kemp Jr. played his finest game as a Husky on the inside, making 9 of 14 shots and scoring 18 points to go with six rebounds. For most of the game, the two young players led the resurgence of a Washington offense that hadn't even been good enough to be called sputtering recently. Andrews and Kemp spurred the Huskies to their most efficient and productive night of the season, and they needed every bit of offensive brilliance to hold off a Sun Devils team that shot 63.8 percent and made 12 three-pointers.
It was not the equation you expected to ignite Washington. Guard C.J. Wilcox, who was averaging nearly 19 points a game, didn't score in the first half and made only 2 of 11 field-goal attempts. But it didn't matter because the Huskies turned to a guard who was shooting just 37.1 percent and a power forward who was averaging just 4.3 points per game.
Andrews plus Kemp minus Wilcox equals vintage Husky offense. Who knew?
"We hadn't won one of those in a while," UW coach Lorenzo Romar said of the offensive fireworks.
It was impossible to see this performance coming. On Thursday, the Huskies had suffered a heartbreaking 57-53 loss to No. 8 Arizona. Then, against Herb Sendek's defensive-minded ASU team, they scored 52 points in the first half.
The game was as unlikely as it was wild. The Huskies made 21 of 22 free throws and shot 52.9 percent from the field. Aziz N'Diaye needed stitches after taking a blow above his left eye early in the game, but he came back and played one of his best games, scoring 16 points on 7-of-8 shooting, grabbing 10 rebounds, converting a three-point play late in the game and altering Arizona State guard Jahii Carson's attempt to tie the game in the closing seconds.
Carson, the amazing 5-foot-10 freshman, was the best player on the floor. He finished with 32 points and five assists. But while the Huskies struggled to defend Carson and forward Jonathan Gilling (22 points, six three-pointers), it should tell you how good their offense was to overcome Arizona State's hot shooting.
"They shot 63 percent, and we won," Andrews said. "Anytime you do that, that's saying a lot about your offense."
Romar will take it, but he knows the Huskies can't make this a habit. Washington's best chance to remain competitive this season is to play defense and win low-scoring games.
With Andrews and Kemp, there's also legitimate hope that the offensive uptick can continue. Even though Andrews has struggled with his shooting until recently, the Huskies have relied on him for a boost all season. And they went into the season expecting Kemp to play a bigger role, but he had to recover from a knee injury before he could become a factor.
Both players are maturing and improving at the right time. It's February. It's moving time in college basketball. Washington (13-9, 5-4 Pac-12) snapped a four-game losing streak, and perhaps the Huskies have rediscovered enough confidence to make a run. They certainly have found two hungry young players who have more to offer than what we've seen.
"When you're starting, you have to play with confidence," said Kemp, who has started in place of Desmond Simmons the past two games. "You build off games like this. That's what I'm trying to do. I'm definitely trying to keep playing well so I can keep the position."
No doubt, Kemp will be starting again next week. And Andrews will continue to play big minutes as the team's sixth man. Can they keep it up? Well, is anything on this team certain to carry over from game to game?
On Saturday, UW stopped losing and shooting bricks. The Huskies won pretty. Andrews and Kemp gave them life. For a team desperate to find consistency, the unlikely heroes are now their new hope.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org
DEAN RUTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES
UW's Shawn Kemp Jr. jams home two points early in the game. He finished with 18 points.