HONOLULU – Isaiah Stewart is ascending.
Ridiculously so, in fact.
Following a 26-point, 13-rebound outing in Washington’s 72-61 win Monday night over Hawaii in the semifinals of the Diamond Head Classic, coach Mike Hopkins interrupted Stewart’s postgame interview to provide commentary that’s become obvious.
“He was unstoppable!” yelled the UW coach turned Husky Hype Man.
But Hopkins’ bombastic proclamation goes beyond just one spectacular night and speaks to a greater discovery about the overly hyped five-star recruit who is projected to be a lottery pick in next year’s NBA draft.
In the past four games, Washington’s star freshman forward has recorded double-double performances while averaging 23.4 points and 11.5 rebounds.
And during this stretch, he’s shooting a whopping 70.4% from the field and a respectable 70.8% on free throws.
Stewart and the Huskies will have college basketball’s center stage virtually to themselves on Christmas Day.
No. 21 Washington (10-2), which plays Houston (9-3) in the Diamond Head Classic title game, is the only ranked team among the four Division I games Wednesday.
The 5:30 p.m. PT game on ESPN2 gives the selfless Stewart a chance to once again showcase his many talents in front of a somewhat captured national audience.
“Obviously we watched him on tape, but after you see him in a game you walk away very impressed,” Hawaii interim coach Chris Gerlufsen said. “I didn’t realize how skilled and nimble he was until I saw it for myself in person.
“You come in thinking, Isaiah is a bully who pounds you inside. But he’ll surprise you with his mid-range touch and can step out and make a three, which is super impressive. He is a grown man. That’s about the best compliment I can give him.”
Stewart’s impressive streak began with 21 points and 10 rebounds against No. 1 Gonzaga in which he sank 6 of 7 field goals and 9 of 10 free throws during an 83-76 defeat.
In his next outing, Stewart dropped a career-high 27 points on 11-of-14 shooting and 13 rebounds on Seattle University. And he tallied 19 points and 10 rebounds versus Ball State in the first round of the Diamond Head Classic.
During the four games, Stewart has seen nearly every defense imaginable. Gonzaga and Ball State used frequent double teams and traps along the baseline.
Meanwhile, Seattle U and Hawaii chose to contain Stewart primarily with just one defender who would sometimes play in front of Stewart or behind him.
“To me it’s surprising,” Stewart said. “I’m so used to getting doubled since the season started and when a team plays me one-on-one, I just try my best to help my team win.”
Hopkins added: “Everybody has a different approach to that. I’ll watch an NBA game and they say we’re going to let him score 50, but we can’t let anybody else score. And then you’ll have people say I’m not letting him score any, I’m going to take him away and let these other guys try to beat you.
“He’s probably seen every type of defense that he will see. And he’s handled it exceptionally well, especially for a freshman.”
Hawaii considered multiple defensive tactics, but ultimately relied on 7-foot sophomore center Dawson Carper, who had six points and seven rebounds against Stewart.
“We spent a lot of times talking about giving him different looks,” Gerlufsen said. “We were going to double sometimes. We were going to shrink the floor on the catch sometimes. We talked to our bigs about doing their work early and not letting him catch deep so he had to work a little bit more.
“But he’s a load. He’s going to make a lot of money in this game someday soon.”
Stewart ranks first among UW players with a 27.3 usage rate (an estimate of the percentage of team plays used by a player while he was on the floor), but he’s been so good recently that Hopkins wonders if the Huskies should go to him even more.
“If they’re going to play him man-to-man, then we’re going to get him the ball,” Hopkins said. “Boy he delivers. He’s strong every night. And if he doesn’t have something, then he’s such a willing passer.
“He’s a special player who keeps getting better and better.”