Doubts have shadowed Dylan Andrews like a sticky defender.
He’s not really a point guard, the refrain goes. He’s insanely athletic and can get to the basket, but he’s not much of a passer. How could UCLA go from Tyger Campbell to this guy?
With one perfectly placed pass after another Sunday, Andrews delivered his retort. The sophomore found Adem Bona near the basket for a dunk. He set up the big man for two jump hooks. He got the ball to Lazar Stefanovic for an open three-pointer.
By the end of the Bruins’ big bounce-back victory over Washington, Andrews had notched a career-high eight assists with only two turnovers while possibly quieting some of his critics and giving himself a huge confidence boost.
“Man, it’s dope, especially being a PG at UCLA, it feels good,” Andrews said Tuesday with a wide smile, “but I’m going to keep going, keep striving and hopefully I can crack that 10 assists.”
His next chance comes Wednesday night at Desert Financial Arena against a team known for making things miserable for opposing guards. Arizona State (10-6 overall, 4-1 Pac-12) leads the conference in turnover margin, largely on the strength of forcing 14.3 turnovers per game.
Fully aware of the challenge, the Bruins (7-10, 2-4) say they understand their guards must continue to make smart passes to win a second consecutive game for the first time since they started the season 3-0.
“The problem for us is they’re all freshmen and sophomores,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said, “and none of them have played extensive minutes in a road game where they’re going to face the type of pressure that they’re going to face in this game.”
Andrews has endured some stumbles while going from averaging 10.9 minutes as Campbell’s backup to 34.1 minutes and running the Bruins’ offense. UCLA’s average of 64.7 points ranks last in the Pac-12 and its offense has struggled to generate easy shots. It doesn't help that Andrews has suffered from cramps that forced him to sit out the end of a few games.
Yet things might be on the upswing. The cramps issue appears to have been solved and Andrews has done a much better job of taking care of the ball lately, committing more than two turnovers only once in his last seven games.
“I feel like I’ve grown a lot,” Andrews said. “I’m still learning as well, but it’s a process for sure and I keep getting better every day.”
Andrews is tied for seventh in the Pac-12 in assists (3.75 per game) and is seventh in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.94-to-1), though his shooting percentage has dipped from 43% in his first college season to 36.2% this season.
Cronin tried to alleviate some pressure on Andrews earlier this month. The coach briefly moved him to shooting guard while Sebastian Mack and Jan Vide ran the point against California before reversing course and going back to his usual arrangement.
The Bruins’ offense has never looked better than it did against Washington, when zippy ball movement led to 20 assists on 25 baskets. UCLA made 50% of its shots for only the third time this season and the first time since that early three-game winning streak against nonconference lightweights.
“We saw that when we make that extra pass to create a shot,” Andrews said, “we’re more efficient.”
Critical to that success was the ability to get the ball to Bona, who powered his way to five dunks and 20 points on 10-for-13 shooting mostly as a function of receiving passes around the basket.
“If you catch it deep, they can’t double you,” Cronin said, referring to the double teams that have tormented Bona for most of the season. “If you catch it off the post, they can come get you whenever they want.”
Watching Bona go in for all those dunks made Andrews want to get one of his own the way he did last season at Desert Financial Arena, when he followed a breakaway dunk with a technical foul for saying something to a Sun Devils counterpart on his way back down the court.
“Coming soon, man, my legs feel good, so I’m excited,” Andrews said of his prospects for a dunk. “I can’t wait to get one this year. … Make sure not to get a technical foul this time.”
Sophomore guard Will McClendon, limited to 11 minutes against Washington because of an upper-respiratory illness, said he was feeling a lot better.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.