SAN DIEGO (AP) — Arizona was a popular upset pick in its NCAA tournament opener a year ago because it was facing a prolific 3-point shooting team and supposedly had trouble guarding the arc.
The Wildcats quashed any thought of an upset early, rolling over Belmont in a rout.
Arizona again opens the NCAA tournament against a team that can light it up from 3.
This time, there are no projections of a David-vs-Goliath takedown.
The No. 1 seed in the West Region, Arizona (30-4) is a nearly 20-point favorite for Friday’s game against Weber State and motivated to keep the Utah version of Wildcats from having any shot at the upset.
“One of the keys for us tomorrow is we can’t get caught up in our seed vs. the seed that we’re playing,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said on Thursday. “This is a basketball game in the NCAA tournament and what we have talked about a lot is we’re trying to be a good team tomorrow.”
Weber State (19-11) will try to take them down with 3-pointers — lots of them.
Weber State hoists up an average of 18.3 from the arc per game, yet isn’t just casting up shots just for the sake of it. These quick-trigger Wildcats can shoot, finishing the regular season tied for 20th nationally in 3-point accuracy at 39.2 percent.
But it’s one thing to do that against teams from the Big Sky.
Facing Arizona, with all that length and athleticism, is going to be much tougher for Weber State.
The desert Wildcats have one of the best defenses in the country, a group that held Colorado without a field goal for the opening 10 minutes of one game, Stanford to 13 first-half points in another.
Arizona has a big front line, anchored by 7-foot center Kaleb Tarczewski, one of the best defensive backcourts around with Nick Johnson and T.J. McConnell, and closes on perimeter shooters like few teams can.
Arizona was fifth nationally in scoring defense, allowing 58.1 percent per game, and seventh in field goal percentage at 38.1 percent.
“It’s going to be a challenge,” Weber State coach Randy Rahe said. “They’re impressive to watch. I’ve enjoyed watching them on film because of how well-coached they are and how good they are together. It’s a system I want to study when it’s all said and done.”
Here’s five more things to watch for when Weber State meets Arizona at San Diego State’s Viejas Arena:
JOHNSON VS. BERRY: Johnson has developed into one of college basketball’s best defenders, a player who can guard on the perimeter and isn’t afraid to mix it up against bigger players. Weber’s Davion Berry, a 6-foot-4 senior swingman, finished third in the conference with 19.1 points per game and fifth with 4.0 assists.
NEW EXPERIENCE: Rahe has been to the NCAA tournament before, but none of his players have; Weber State is making its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2006-07, when it lost to UCLA in the first round. Instead of limiting his players’ access to phone calls, social media and TV as some coaches might, Rahe wants them to have the full experience of playing in the NCAA tournament and enjoy the process so they know what to expect if they get back.
ARIZONA IN THE WEST: As the No. 1 seed in the West Region, Arizona earned the advantage of playing close to home. For them, it could be a huge advantage. Wildcats fans travel well to begin with — they overwhelmed the MGM Grand Garden Arena for the Pac-12 tournament — and will have a short trip with the first two rounds in San Diego. Get through this weekend and Arizona will play just up the coast in Anaheim, where the crowds will figure to be just as big.
EYE ON GORDON: This will be the first and possibly last NCAA tournament for Arizona forward Aaron Gordon. The talented freshman was a huge recruit for Miller and had a solid first season in the desert, but is expected to leave Tucson for the NBA once it’s over. Gordon averaged 12.1 points and 7.8 rebounds per game during the regular season.
UPSET HISTORY: Though they are longshots to take down Arizona, the Weber State Wildcats have a few wins over big-name programs on the resume in the NCAA tournament. Weber State beat Michigan State in 1995 before losing to Georgetown and in ’99, took down mighty North Carolina as a No. 14 seed in one of the NCAA tournament’s biggest upsets to that point.
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