STANFORD -- 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."

  • Huestis was the only Cardinal starter not to score at least 10 points in the 60-57 stunner over Kansas. But the senior forward dented the Jayhawks' psyche with two big blocks. He also led Stanford with eight rebounds.

    Huestis, the school's all-time shot-block leader with 186, has five in the tournament so far.

    Here is how the 6-7 Montana player describes his specialty:

    "It almost happens even faster," he said of making a block. "It comes in little clips. I see opportunity. I see them driving, and I block it. I almost blank out, it happens so quickly."

  • Stanford felt slighted by Kansas because the Jayhawks didn't know the Cardinal's stars before the game. Stanford won't make that mistake against No. 11 Dayton (25-10). The Cardinal is showing the Flyers plenty of respect.

    "They have a lot of depth," Dawkins said. "They're real physical, and they get after you. They have almost two players at every position."

  • Aubrey Dawkins, son of Stanford's coach, will have special interest in the game. Dayton has offered the 6-5 guard a scholarship. Aubrey, who graduated from Palo Alto High last year, played at New Hampton Preparatory School in New Hampshire this season. He also has offers to attend Cal Poly, College of Charleston, Rhode Island and Utah State.

    "We're trying to get him to the game," Johnny Dawkins said. "I think both staffs will be focused on the task at hand, but it is a neat thing that he's being recruited by them and the success they're having."

  • Coach Tara VanDerveer and her staff sent a dozen roses to Dawkins' hotel room Sunday to congratulate him on reaching the Sweet 16 in his first NCAA tournament as a head coach.

    Dawkins didn't say whether he would reciprocate the gesture Monday after the Cardinal women routed Florida State to reach their seventh consecutive Sweet 16.

    Contact Elliott Almond at 408-920-5865. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/elliottalmond.