N'Diaye deserves his props

SEATTLE - It's hard not to love Aziz N'Diaye. In his third year at Washington, The Huskies' gentle giant has emerged as one of the biggest game altering forces in the Pac-12, and a key reason why Washington has roared out of the gate to start conference play.

"He gives us confidence, you can trust your teammate is going to be back there," said junior guard C.J. Wilcox after Washington's 64-54 win to give UW a share of their best conference start under Lorenzo Romar. "All these quick guards that can get by us, we know we have him back there that can alter the shot or block it which definitely helps."

N'Diaye's emergence as a defensive dynamo isn't all that surprising. He was named to the Pac-12 All Defensive Team last season. But what is surprising is his improvement on the offensive end. N'Diaye has been a marvel of efficiency and consistency thus far during conference play. Setting up on the right block, Aziz has become a steady secondary scoring option for the Huskies. Heading into the Colorado game, he was averaging 13.3 points during conference play to accompany his 9.7 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game. Furthermore, he ranks tops in the conference in field goal percentage. Tell me you saw that coming.

One need only look toward the sidelines at the beaming UW coaching staff after he connects on one of his spinning right handers in the lane. The seven-foot senior from Senegal has certainly come a long way in a short amount of time. It wasn't long ago that fans cringed any time he received the ball in the paint, if he was able to hold onto it at all. N'Diaye has worked tirelessly over the course of his three seasons at Washington to improve. He's also navigated through injury during that time and overcome an ACL tear prior to his arrival at Montlake. It's clear that his effort is now paying off.

While his offense has obviously improved, it's his defense that still sets him apart from the pack.

The stat sheet only registers those things that can be quantified empirically: It can't count the effect he has had on dribble penetration - or more precisely - how his mere presence is enough to dissuade opposing guards from even bothering to penetrate the paint in the first place. But there is an indirect metric for that. The Huskies lead the conference in scoring defense by a healthy margin, limiting opponents to less than 40 percent from the field in all four conference games, as well as under 20 percent in three of those games. The N'Diaye factor has allowed Washington to extend defensive pressure and gamble more. They're second in opponent field goal percentage and lead the Pac-12 in three point defense. It all starts with N'Diaye.

"If we are playing the type of defense we are supposed to be, we are up pressuring the ball, if we are pressuring the ball and determined to get through threes, it gives you a chance to contest all the shots," said Romar. "We really talk about contested shots and chart them and want to be on the plus side – contesting more shots than are uncontested."

Statistically speaking, Washington's win over Colorado wasn't one of N'Diaye's classic performances. He scored just six points, grabbed 11 boards and blocked three shots. Yet despite shooting a dismal 34 percent from the field as a team, Washington dominated the game from tip to horn. They won by smothering the Buffaloes defensively, and N'Diaye lead the way. He wasn't going to let them score on the inside without a lot of effort, and CU had no three-point threat to score them back into contention when they went down double-digits.

"They are so long, athletic, they have the big guy in the middle," Colorado Head Coach Tad Boyle said after the game. "You have to score and execute against Washington because you are not going to get anything easy."

Ask Washington's guards how they feel about the congenial seven-footer defending their back side and they're quick to heap on the praise. Simply put, he makes the rest of the team better, and great defense is what catalyzes every other facet of Husky Basketball.

"I've said that since the beginning of the year, we need Aziz on the floor, we can't afford for him to be out," said senior point guard Abdul Gaddy. "We have players playing better that are coming in, Jernard gave us a good boost, Shawn gave us a boost. We always need Aziz, he is our catalyst back there and comes in and gets rebounds and is a great defender."

Early in his career, Romar often referenced former NBA defensive wizard Dikembe Mutombo when talking about N'Diaye's college potential. It sounded far fetched at the time, but not so much any longer. He's the Huskies' own version of Mt. Mutombo, and he has UW's defense scaling new heights.

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