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Huskies hope bigger is better

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Aziz N'Diaye gives the Huskies an inside presence they didn't have last year

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Aziz N'Diaye knew of two college basketball teams growing up in Dakar, Senegal: North Carolina and Duke.

"People mostly follow the NBA there," said Washington's 7-foot, 260-pound sophomore center. "I knew Michael Jordan went to North Carolina. You know that's a good program. Those programs are known."

Sunday, N'Diaye will play a big role – literally and figuratively – in trying to eliminate North Carolina from the NCAA tournament.

A year ago, Washington advanced to the Sweet 16 where it ran into a large, physical West Virginia bunch that slugged its way to a 13-point victory over the Huskies. Washington coach Lorenzo Romar had only one scholarship player 6-9 or taller a year ago and knew that needed to change for the Huskies to advance deeper into March.

He found N'Diaye in Twin Falls, Idaho, where he was finishing up his second season with the College of Southern Idaho (his first was a redshirt for a torn ACL). Romar won a recruiting battle with Oklahoma to land the 7-footer.

"It was extremely important," Romar said Sunday. "A few years ago we played Louisville and walked out there and just see that size. We played UConn in 2006 and you walk out and see that size. We saw it against West Virginia and Purdue, and we just knew if we wanted to have an opportunity to go further in a tournament, we needed to have that type of size. We've made some strides in the right direction that way."

Romar will learn precisely how many strides Sunday at Time Warner Cable Arena.

With N'Diaye, who averaged 4.6 points and 5.6 rebounds coming off the bench this season, and starter Matthew Bryan-Amaning (15.3 ppg, 8.0 rpg), the Huskies can battle the Tar Heels inside. And while UNC's duo of 7-footer Tyler Zeller and 6-10 John Henson is more athletic and talented, the Huskies' inside game is far more physical.

"They really have the total package," UNC coach Roy Williams said.

N'Diaye calls the matchup against such a traditional power "another life experience" he's gained since moving to the United States four years ago (he spent one year of prep school at Lake Forest Academy in Illinois before going to junior college).

And he realizes the impact he can have in ending the season for Michael Jordan's school.

"It's a big deal when you go from watching it and enjoying it on TV and now you're in it," he said.