CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Washington coach Lorenzo Romar learned the hard way that as teams move through the NCAA tournament, opponents get not only better, but bigger.
That will be the case again at 9:15 a.m. today, when the Huskies meet North Carolina with a berth in the round of 16 on the line.
Not only are the Tar Heels good enough to enter the game with a 27-7 record and a No. 2 seeding, but they are expected to go with a front court of 7-foot Tyler Zeller, 6-10 John Henson and 6-8 Harrison Barnes.
“When you go out there and see them out on the floor, that’s one of the first things that struck me was their length,” Romar said. “They have great size.”
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The difference this season is that Romar has the option of matching the Tar Heels nearly inch for inch.
That wasn’t the case last season, when Washington was muscled out of the Sweet 16 by West Virginia. After that game, and remembering others that had come before, Romar resolved to bring bigger teams to future Big Dances.
“A few years ago we played Louisville and walk out there and just see that size,” Romar said. “We play against UConn (in) 2006, you walk out there 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. I think we’ve made some strides in the right direction that way.”
Over the offseason, UW brought in 7-footer Aziz N’Diaye, who can combine with 6-9 Matthew Bryan-Amaning and 6-8 Darnell Gant to answer size with size.
“When (Romar) recruited me we kind of have that talk like going to this tournament,” N’Diaye said. “I know there are a couple of teams with bigger lineups; and me and Matthew and Darnell, we can pretty much match up. I want to do my part with whatever bigs they have.”
On Friday, Carolina rode its big men to a 102-87 win over Long Island. Zeller (32), Henson (28) and Barnes (24) combined for 84 points, while no other Tar Heels player scored in double figures.
Carolina’s big three also affect the defensive end – especially Henson, who has 43 blocked shots in his past nine games (4.8 per game), and 109 for the season.
“John is a beast,” Barnes said. “He’s definitely our anchor defensively. (He) gets a lot of blocks, gets a lot of rebounds. He disrupts a lot of shots. We definitely rely on him a lot to anchor us defensively. And because of him, that fuels our offense.”
That last part separates North Carolina from West Virginia and some of the other big teams Washington has met in past NCAA tournaments.
“I think (North Carolina) is a little more athletic,” Gant said. “West Virginia was big and strong. This team is a lot more athletic and a lot longer. It still makes it tough, but we want to be the more physical team and the tougher team, and maybe good things will happen.”
And just as Washington is eager to bang with North Carolina, the Tar Heels sound eager to run with the Huskies.
“We enjoy that,” UNC guard Dexter Strickland said. “And if they want to run, we’ll match their intensity.”
That is a challenge the Huskies seem eager to take.
“We feel we’re at our best when we’re running the floor,” Bryan-Amaning said. “Coach always says you got a good shot in transition, take it. He’s always giving us the green light. He thinks we’re going to make the right decisions. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun just being able to play with a team like that.”
Don Ruiz, 253-597-8808 firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter/donruiztnt blog.thenewstribune.com/uwsports
Washington vs. North Carolina