Last week, UCLA's Kyle Anderson, right, was no match for Arizona big man Kaleb Tarczewski. More recently, "Big Zeus" handled Washington 7-foot center Aziz N'diaye.



Arizona's winter trip to the Palouse has been something of a reputation-maker for UA centers, a we've-got-more-than-little-guys statement from the big men of Point Guard U.

Joseph Blair had a 19-point, 16-rebound double-double at Wazzu in 1995.

Ben Davis almost matched that, 18-14, a year later.

Channing Frye finished his Wildcat career by making 11 of 13 shots, scoring 26 points at Friel Court in 2005.

And Derrick Williams put his signature on an Arizona victory in Pullman with a 17-point, 19-rebound double-double.

Tonight will be freshman center Kaleb Tarczewski's debut at WSU, and it's a bit unrealistic to think he's on the verge of a breakout game this early in his college days. After all, he has attempted just 4.6 shots per game, and never more than nine.

But he's getting there, don't you think?

After Thursday's 57-53 victory at Washington, Tarczewski emerged from the UA locker room with ice taped to his knee, a souvenir from what was probably his best game since leading the 28-2 St. Mark's Lions to the New England Preparatory School championship 10 months earlier.

"It was a battle," Tarczewski said, leaning against a wall. "And I love to battle."

Twenty games into his college career, Tarczewski was more effective than Washington's 7-foot Aziz N'diaye, a 24-year-old senior who has played 2,008 minutes for the Huskies.

In what UW coach Lorenzo Romar termed "the most physical game we've played," the Wildcats responded, push for push, and no one was more pushy than "Big Zeus."

This isn't Kirk Walters in the paint, or any other of those ex-UA centers chronically labeled as soft.

"Aziz is a big guy, he's tough, but I kinda like that better," said Tarczewski. "I like going against guys my own size, and I like playing on the road. It's a great competition. I came out of this one feeling good."

More than anyone, Arizona coach Sean Miller understands the value and potential of his New Hampshire center. He's a bit like buying Apple stock when it was unproven, waiting for the payoff.

Tarczewski played 29 minutes at Washington, seven above his average, and scored in double figures (10) for the second consecutive game. His teammates involved him in the offense more than at almost any time this season, especially in a close game.

"I think it shows where he will be one day," said Miller.

Notice his choice of words? He said "will be" and not "can be."

N'diaye has played more than 100 college basketball games, but he remains a liability because he has not improved his game offensively, especially at the foul line. He bricked four consecutive foul shots late in Thursday's game, and nothing hurt the Huskies more than that. N'diaye has season free-throw percentages of .417, .397 and now .449 from the foul line at Washington.

On Thursday he was .000 when it really counted.

By comparison, Tarczewski (6 for 7 in Seattle) has become a diligent free-throw shooter, improving markedly, the importance of which a freshman doesn't always grasp. After opening 14 for 30 this season (.464 percent), Tarczewski has since gone 16 for 22 (.727), and for a team that plays as many close games as Arizona, it is a not an option for Tarczewski to be an unreliable shooter.

"I struggled early because of all the weight I gained over the summer, in the weight room," he said. "But now I'm calming down, working on it every day. In high school I was pretty good, about 70 percent. But shooting in front of 10,000 people is a bit different. I'm going to keep working at it; it's coming."

Statistically, Tarczewski compares favorably to Arizona's top freshmen centers of the past 25 years.

He is averaging 6.1 points. Frye averaged 9.5; Ed Stokes, 8.0; Blair 7.1; Sean Rooks, 5.6.

Tarczewski is averaging 5.9 rebounds. Frye was at 6.3; Stokes 4.6; Blair 3.8; Rooks 2.8.

Game by game, bit by bit, you can see Tarczewski slow down in the flow of Arizona's offense. He sometimes hurries, losing control when he catches a pass, but not as often now as in November and December. He is not yet a skilled finisher at the rim, not even close. But it's coming.

A year ago this weekend, Tarczewski scored 45 points in St. Mark's sweep over Thayer Academy and St. Sebastian, helping the Lions improve to 18-2. That is familiar turf.

The Wildcats are also 18-2, and Tarczewski has started all 20 games.

In the last few weeks, Tarczewski has been a handful. It won't be long before he is two handfuls.

Contact Greg Hansen at 573-4362 or