Coming into the season, it was hard to know what to expect from Aziz N’Diaye. His first two years on campus were maligned by what seemed to be a magnetic force field around his hands that prevented him from catching anything cleanly. He certainly has never lacked size since he stepped on campus as a sophomore transferring from the College of Southern Idaho, but he also never possessed much else.
That has all changed this season; as a senior, N’Diaye is averaging 10.7 points and 9.7 rebounds per game. He leads all Pac-12 centers in rebounding and trails only Utah’s Jason Washburn in scoring by a third of a point per game.
Both numbers have steadily, almost linearly gone up over his three season at UW. To go along with his improved scoring and rebounding, N’Diaye has also increased his block number as well as his defense overall. While the increase from 1.0 to 1.3 blocks per game is notable, the most impressive part of it is that he has done it while significantly decreasing his fouling.
The only game he has fouled out of this season was the 76-73 loss to Nevada early in the season. Last year, he fouled out of three games and was hindered with four fouls in eight other games. Not only has he played better defense, the senior center has done it while staying on the court longer.
In his 30 minutes on the court each night, N’Diaye is consistently the most reliable and trusted player in the game for the Huskies. The guards trust to throw him a ball in the paint has improved tenfold, resulting in the most productive season N’Diaye has ever had.
Over the course of one summer, N’Diaye was able to eliminate the magnetic force field around his hands while perfecting a hook shot and improving other post moves.
The last thing N’Diaye needs to work on to become a truly dominant post player is his free throw shooting. That is the only part of his game that has not made significant improvements during his time on campus. His accuracy from the line is at a career high this season, but that number is still only 45.7 percent. When he gets the ball down low, opponents have the option to simply send him to the line, a la “Hack-A-Howard” in the NBA. Many teams have turned to this because of N’Diaye’s remarkable 63 percent shooting percentage from the field, another conference leading number.
Being the best center in the Pac-12 may not be as high of an honor as in other conferences, but N’Diaye still faces stiff competition on a night-in, night-out basis. His main two competitors for the title were Utah’s Washburn and Arizona State’s Jordan Bachynski. Both players are having nice seasons with a few standout games, but neither provides the consistency or overall skillset that N’Diaye does.
Bachynski recorded the first triple-double in ASU history earlier this season and that was arguably not even his best game on the season. He scored 22 points, collected 15 rebounds and blocked six shots in a dominating win over UCLA. However, N’Diaye and Shawn Kemp Jr. both manhandled Bachynski in the paint in UW’s 96-93 win over ASU earlier this season. Bachynski tends to have trouble with players who either force him to the perimeter or can push him around down low, like N’Diaye.
Washburn offers more consistency than Bachynski and has really picked up his game since conference play started; he has scored in double figures in all of Utah’s games since December 18. Utah’s 6’10” center finishes second in this discussion because he isn’t able to rebound like N’Diaye can. In their only matchup so far this season, Washburn outscored N’Diaye 18-6, but fell three rebounds short of the Senegalese center.
Luckily for Bachynski, he is only a junior and has the opportunity to make the strides N’Diaye did from his junior to senior season. Nobody would have argued that N’Diaye was the best center in the Pac-12 last season and Bachynski already has his name in the discussion. Washburn will graduate with N’Diaye this season. Both have NBA prospects, but neither is regarded as a first round pick.
Despite that, N’Diaye will continue to sink hook shots, throw down monstrous dunks and out-muscle opponents for rebounds the rest of the season as he continues his run as the best center in the conference. UW fans will get the treat of watching him for eight more games before he moves on and the Huskies are forced to find his replacement.