Washington center Aziz N'Diaye, who suffered a sprained knee in the Huskies' loss to Duke, is expected to return for the Pac-12 opener on Dec. 29.
Washington’s basketball season is just eight games old, and center Aziz N’Diaye — perhaps the Huskies’ most important player — has already sustained two serious injuries.
A concussion suffered Oct. 30 caused N’Diaye to miss a week of practice and an exhibition game against Seattle Pacific.
Now a sprained right knee suffered during Saturday’s 86-80 defeat to No. 7 Duke is expected to sideline him the next two or three games.
The Huskies (4-4) will be without their 7-foot enforcer when they look to halt their three-game losing streak Friday against UC Santa Barbara, and Sunday against South Dakota State.
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N’Diaye said he’s doubtful for the Dec. 22 game against Cal State Northridge and is targeting a Dec. 29 return in the Pac-12 opener against Oregon State.
“I’m not playing Friday or this weekend at all,” he said. “I know my knee is not ready for that. I’m going to start rehab today or tomorrow. Go from there. Miss the next couple of games, but I’ll be back.”
Considering N’Diaye’s medical history, three games missed would be good news for the Huskies.
N’Diaye missed the 2009-10 season at the College of Southern Idaho after tearing his right ACL.
He feared the worst early in the second half against Duke, when he flushed a dunk over a Blue Devils player and tweaked his knee after landing on one leg. He stumbled, regained his balance and took a few steps before collapsing on the court, clutching his knee.
An MRI on Monday didn’t reveal a torn ligament or serious structural damage.
“When I heard it, it kind of (gave) me a sense of relief,” said N’Diaye. “I was happy.”
He is expected to begin rehabilitation this week, with the Huskies proceeding as if he will be out for the remainder of the nonconference season.
“It’s definitely good news, because that’s our enforcer down low and you don’t want him to be out for the whole year,” senior co-captain Darnell Gant said. “I’m glad he’s only out for three games.
“We need him back ASAP. He’s a big key to this year.”
Gant, a 6-8 forward, figures to slide into N’Diaye’s spot. Other options include the 6-7 Desmond Simmons, 6-9 Shawn Kemp Jr. and 6-8 Martin Breunig.
Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar is also considering implementing the four-guard lineup he used in the second half against Duke. In that scenario, 6-5 freshman point guard Tony Wroten Jr. could make his first start.
“We’re going to look at different combinations,” Romar said. “Take a look and see what we got.”
• The Huskies are attempting to move the 6 p.m. start time of the Dec. 29 game against Oregon State because it coincides with Washington’s Alamo Bowl game. Changing the time will be difficult because of contractual agreements with ROOT Sports. The Beavers would also have to agree to the change.
• Romar said Washington is finalizing plans to play in the 2012 Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic in Springfield, Mass. Other participating teams are Ohio State, Seton Hall and Rhode Island, according to published reports.
Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @percyallen.