It will be a battle of Wildcats Friday in San Diego as Arizona takes on Weber State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
However, the mascot is about the only thing the schools have in common.
Arizona enters the matchup as a No. 1 seed for the sixth time in school history after going 30-4 (15-3) and winning the Pac-12 regular season title. Weber State, on the other hand, went 19-11 (14-6) in the Big Sky, winning both the conference’s regular season and tournament titles.
Arizona enters the game a 19.5 point favorite to knock off Weber State and advance to the round of 32 to face the winner of the Gonzaga/Oklahoma State game.
Northern Arizona University
• Dec. 23 – Arizona 77, NAU 44
Nick Johnson scored 20 points for Arizona, with Rondae Hollis-Jefferson adding 14 and Brandon Ashley chipping in 11. The Wildcats held the Lumberjacks to just 36.4 percent shooting and forced 18 turnovers.
• Jan. 30 – Weber State 76, NAU 67
Davion Berry led all scorers with 28 points on 7-of-11 shooting. He made 10-of-11 free throw attempts — of which the Wildcats took 40 in the game. Just one other Weber State player reached double figures in scoring, as Jeremy Senglin scored 15. The Wildcats connected on nearly 54 percent of their field goal attempts and hammered NAU on the boards.
• Mar. 1 – NAU 73, Weber State 71 (OT)
The Wildcats got 23 from Davion Berry and 18 from Jeremy Senglin, but NAU got 26 from Quinton Upshur and 16 from Max Jacobsen as the Lumberjacks held on for the win. Weber State missed 13 of 20 three-point attempts and was just 18-of-29 from the free throw line.
• Dec. 22 – UCLA 83, Weber State 60
Things got off to a solid start for Weber State as they jumped out to a 16-11 lead, but things quickly went sideways after that. Richaud Gittens scored 15 off the bench, while Davion Berry added 14 and Jeremy Senglin 12. The Wildcats were crushed 42-28 on the boards and made just 39.3 percent of their field goal attempts, including a 4-of-22 performance from three.
• Jan. 9 – Arizona 79, UCLA 75
Arizona let a comfortable lead slip away late, but rallied and hung on to maintain an unblemished record. Nick Johnson led all scorers with 22 points, Kaleb Tarczewski scored 16, Gabe York had 12 and Aaron Gordon scored 10. The Wildcats shot .538 from the field while holding the Bruins to .400, but 17 UA turnovers allowed this game to be close.
• Mar. 15 – UCLA 75, Arizona 71
The Wildcats got off to a real bad start, battled back, then fell apart down the stretch in the Pac-12 Tournament championship game. Nick Johnson led the way with 22 points, with Kaleb Tarczewski scoring 12 and both Aaron Gordon and Gabe York notching 11, but Arizona made just 6-of-16 free throw attempts and struggled with decision-making down the stretch.
Keys for Arizona
Size is an advantage, so use it
Arizona will trot out 6-foot-7 Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, 6-foot-9 Aaron Gordon and 7-foot Kaleb Tarczewski. Weber State will counter with 6-foot-10 Kyle Tresnak. And that’s it.
With Brandon Ashley, Arizona was a ridiculously big team. Without him, they’re just big. Arizona finished with a +8.4 rebounding margin, blocked 4.2 shots per game and generally had their way down low with most opponents. Teams with similar size could give them trouble, but Weber State is not one of them.
Arizona gets into trouble when it goes away from the low post, but odds are in this game they will feed Gordon and Tarczewski both early and often.
Defense, defense, defense
In case you didn’t know, Arizona is one of the premier defensive teams in the country. It allowed just 58.1 points per game — which ranked fifth in the country — and held opponents to 38.1 percent shooting. As part of that, teams made just 31.4 percent of their three-point attempts against the ‘Cats.
That will be big in this game.
Weber State likes to shoot the three ball, and given that it made 39 percent of them during the season, why not? Jeremy Senglin made 61 during the season, Davion Berry 57 and Jordan Richardson 53. Arizona’s size and athletic ability have given shooters fits all season, and that cannot change in this game.
Run when you can
If Arizona has a weakness, it has to be shooting the basketball. The ‘Cats shot 46.8 percent from the field, which ranked 50th in college basketball, but much of that percentage was earned via layups and dunks. Force them to shoot from the outside — or the free throw line — and things can get a bit dicey.
That’s why the post-Ashley era has seen Sean Miller’s team run, run and run some more. Transition opportunities lead to more layups and dunks along with open three-point attempts.
With T.J. McConnell, Nick Johnson, Gabe York and Aaron Gordon all capable of leading the break — along with superior athleticism throughout the lineup — expect Arizona to get out and run at every opportunity.
Keys for Weber State
Don’t be intimidated
Yes, Arizona is 30-4, but that record was earned largely with a different roster. The Pac-12 champs are just 9-4 since Brandon Ashley was lost for the season, and that record could have been worse had a couple of close games gone the other way.
Furthermore, while Arizona is capable of looking like one of the best teams in the country, it are also prone to stretches of borderline incompetence, at least offensively. If Weber State can hang in there until one of those stretches comes — and then capitalize on it when it does — this game could be interesting.
Find a way to make some threes
The easiest way to pull off an upset in the NCAA Tournament is to rain threes down on the higher seed. Of course, that’s easier said than done when the opponent is usually bigger, stronger, longer and more athletic, but those are the breaks.
If Weber State is to become the first No. 16 seed to upset a No. 1, it is going to have to at least come close to its season average of 7.2 made threes per game, the bulk of which come from Berry, Senglin and Richardson.
Get Arizona’s bigs into foul trouble
Besides making threes, the best way to negate an opponent’s size advantage is to take the size out of the game. Both Kaleb Tarczewski and Aaron Gordon occasionally get into foul trouble, and the Wildcats are not exactly deep behind the two frontcourt players.
That’s where Kyle Tresnak and Joel Bolomboy come in. Weber State’s second-leading scorer and top rebounder will have their hands full, but each is capable of scoring the basketball and making a defender work, which will sometimes lead to fouls.
Get either of UA’s starting bigs into foul trouble and the favorites will be forced to play small. While they are still very formidable that way, Weber State has a better chance of pulling off the upset if UA has to turn to its bench more than it would like.