The Arizona Wildcats begin their quest for the the program’s second national championship as their NCAA tournament runs kicks off today against the 16-seed Weber State Wildcats, winners of the paltry Big Sky Conference. The first half of the round of 64 is in the books and featured a thrilling slate of games, but Weber State will have their hands full with the 30-4 Pac-12 juggernaut. Arizona sports what is widely considered the best defense in the country and is one of a small amount of teams capable of running through this entire tournament on its way to an NCAA title. First, they must lay down the law in the round of 64 and prove that they are indeed the better Wildcats in this matchup.
Weber State is fresh off its victory in the Big Sky conference tournament, whereas Arizona suffered a loss in the Pac-12 title game to UCLA, a team that dismantled Weber State earlier this year by 23 points. Arizona sat atop the rankings for two months and stampeded to a 21-0 record before forward Brandon Ashley went down for the year with a broken foot. They are obviously not the same team, but Coach Sean Miller has made some necessary adjustments and has not allowed his team to fold.
Keys for Weber State to Win: Pray, cross their fingers, pray some more, choreograph a rain dance, and maybe pick up a few ouija boards and try to place a hex or two on Arizona. No. 16’s are winless in tourney history, and if Weber State is going to buck that trend they will obviously have to play a perfect contest. The one thing that jumps off the page is that they shoot 39 percent from three-point range as a team. Arizona does sport possibly the best defense in the NCAA, but the one little chink in its armor is that they can be prone to giving up some threes. Weber State will have to rely upon their three guards Jordan Richardson, Jeremy Senglin and especially Davion Berry to light it up. They have no chance if any of them are off. All three have to come out firing and give Arizona a firm kick to the stomach right from the opening tip. Where they have to truly step it up is on the glass, an area where Arizona is absolutely ruthless. Weber State is a very small team, but they all must hit the boards hard instead of just relying on Joel Bolomboy and his 10.8 boards per game to be enough. If they make a concerted team effort on the glass and find a way to distribute the ball and get everyone going on offense, who knows what might happen.
Keys for Arizona to Win: Arizona just has to be themselves and execute like they have time and time again this season. The loss of Brandon Ashley hurts significantly, as he was their most skilled big. Ashley spread the floor and could do a number of things on both ends of the court, and the Wildcats still struggle at times without his diverse skill-set. That is unlikely to matter against Weber State, because the Wildcats on the other end simply have no way to match up with Arizona’s length and athleticism. They have to lean on their athletic front court in Kaleb Tarczewski, Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and just simply play their game. Few, if any teams in the country can compete with this team when they get going on the defensive end and use that to fuel their offense. The result is usually thunderous alley-oops being spread around. Once Arizona gets into their game and starts playing loose, there is no stopping them. As long as they use their defense to fuel their offense and control the glass, they will be just fine.
Prediction: There is just no way Weber State comes away with this one. Every fan longs for the day that a 16 wins a game, but this is not that day. Throw in the fact that Arizona is pretty much looking at a home game in San Diego here due to their insane fans who travel as well as any in the country. After enduring a raucous Pac-12 schedule following one of the most daunting out-of-conference schedules in all of the NCAA featuring wins over top clubs like Duke, Michigan and San Diego State all on the road, Arizona is probably salivating at the prospects of feasting on a mid-major like Weber State. Expect this game to turn into a dunk-fest about ten to fifteen minutes in.
Commentary by Justin Hussong
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