NEW YORK - As Villanova counted down this week to its first game in the NCAA South Regional, its concern was getting senior center Daniel Ochefu healthy and back in the lineup full-time following a sprained right ankle that hampered him in last weekend's Big East tournament.

The 6-foot-11 Ochefu declared himself ready after the Wildcats' practice Thursday, and coach Jay Wright said he's "100 percent good to go" for Friday's game against 15th-seeded UNC-Asheville at Barclays Center.

But given how happy the Wildcats are to see Ochefu healthy, the paradox is that the Bulldogs (22-11), champion of the Big South Conference tournament, play with a smaller lineup that might compel Wright to take Ochefu out and match up with a smaller lineup of his own.

UNCA uses mostly a six-man rotation of players ranging in height from 6-2 to 6-6. Having Ochefu on the floor may give the No. 2 seed Wildcats (29-5) the edge on offense, but UNCA's quickness could make life tough for the 'Nova defense.

"They play offensively to find the mismatch so they can drive you," Wright said. "Then defensively they switch every screen, and everybody on their team can guard everybody except a big. So that either becomes an advantage for you on offense, or it becomes a disadvantage for you on defense. We've got to play the game to see where that plays out and then make our adjustments."

Wright said he watched film of the Bulldogs' 79-73 win at Georgetown, a team with 7-foot center Bradley Hayes, and their narrow 82-78 loss at Tennessee, and was impressed.

"Honestly, playing big didn't work for Georgetown," he said, "and playing big didn't work for Tennessee even though they won in a close game. But Asheville had them. But I still have confidence in our bigs. I want to give that a shot."

The Wildcats switch everything on defense, meaning Ochefu has had to guard the perimeter on pick-and-rolls. However, the ankle could affect his lateral movement if he's not totally healthy.

Ochefu said the ankle has come around since last weekend when he averaged 15.7 minutes, 4.3 points and 2.7 rebounds in 'Nova's three games. He sat out three days, returned to practice Wednesday, and then went full speed during the Wildcats' closed workout Thursday at St. Francis College.

"As soon as I started to get going [Wednesday], it felt fine, and I felt good" Thursday, he said. "The extra day helps a lot because I can rest it some more. I can go back to the hotel and get more treatment. I feel a lot better than I felt at the Big East tournament."

The Bulldogs don't appear to be fazed by Ochefu's size, possibly because they outrebounded opponents by 2.7 boards per game this season.

"Being small helps us, because we've got to play a lot more aggressive even to have a chance," freshman guard Dwayne Sutton said. "We've tried to gain rebounds over bigger teams, such as Georgetown, and that paid off well. We just try to play as hard as we can for as long as we can."

This is the fourth consecutive NCAA tournament for Ochefu and fellow scholarship senior Ryan Arcidiacono, and they're both hoping for a long run, not something that cuts short their tournament stay at two games, as has been the case the previous two years.

"I don't want to say 'dream come true.' I've been to four straight NCAA tournaments," Ochefu said. "But it's definitely something that I've been very honored to be a part of, very humbling to me just being in this situation having our team coming to the tournament again. Hopefully we take care of business."

jjuliano@phillynews.com

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