Stanford shot blocker Josh Huestis can pinpoint the difference between the Cardinal team now and a year ago:

Stefan Nastic.

"He's something we missed last year, a big inside force," Huestis said Monday, a day after the Cardinal advanced to the Sweet 16 by stunning No. 2-seeded Kansas.

Stanford's 6-foot-11 center has been a towering presence this season while starting 34 of 35 games. He scored 10 points and played intimidating defense to help the 10th-seeded Cardinal (23-12) advance to the regional semifinals Thursday in Memphis, Tenn., against Dayton.

"He doesn't back down from anybody," Huestis added. "He's one of the most fearless people I've ever met. He really anchors us inside."

It also helped when coach Johnny Dawkins switched to a high-and-low-post offense, keeping Nastic near the basket but moving fellow Canadian Dwight Powell to the perimeter.

Nastic, who averages 7.2 points a game this season, is one of the biggest surprises in Dawkins' six-year tenure at Stanford. Recruited as a project post player, Nastic didn't make dramatic improvement in his first four years.

Although the redshirt junior became a starter at the beginning of last season, he soon fell out of favor because of his inability to score and repeatedly getting into foul trouble. Without Nastic, the Cardinal didn't have a strong post presence to match physical teams.

Stanford coaches told Nastic that he needed to improve his offense if he wanted to make this season count.

Dawkins appreciates how the Canadian-Serbian took the criticism. Instead of sulking, Nastic attacked the problem. His deficiencies also were reinforced when the center failed to make a Serbian national team last summer.

"It was another blow for him," Dawkins said. "He dug deep, and he found something out about himself."