Weber State basketball: Arizona’s Final 4 quest starts vs. Wildcats
College basketball • ‘Zona’s has best defense in nation, making Weber’s task difficult
Published: March 18, 2014 02:15PM
Updated: March 18, 2014 11:48PM
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Arizona's Nick Johnson, center, puts up a reverse layup against UCLA in the second half during the championship game of the NCAA Pac-12 conference college basketball tournament, Saturday, March 15, 2014, in Las Vegas. UCLA won 75-71. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

Arizona’s long history in the NCAA tournament includes one national championship.

Weber State would like to keep it that way.

Top-seeded Arizona plays No. 16 seed Weber on Friday in the opening round of the West Regional in San Diego.

Many believe the Pac 12 Wildcats will use the game as a launching pad for a deep run in the tournament — perhaps one that leads to its first title since 1997.

While he isn’t conceding, Weber State coach Randy Rahe understands the sentiment.

“They’ve got a truly outstanding team,” he said.

Besides Arizona, Weber will also be battling history.

A top-seed has never lost to a No. 16 seed. In fact, when Arizona has been a No. 1 seed, it has never won its opening round game by less than 29 points.

This season, Arizona started 21-0. It is 30-4 heading into the tournament after losing down the stretch to conference rivals California, Oregon, Arizona State and UCLA by a total of 12 points.

Arizona is exceptionally talented, if not exceptionally deep.

The ‘Cats are led by junior guard Nick Johnson and freshman forward Aaron Gordon. Johnson averages 16.2 points per game. Gordon averages 12.1 points and will likely be a top-10 pick in this summer’s NBA draft.

Arizona’s defense, however, will be what carries it during the tournament.

The Wildcats allow 86.9 points per 100 possessions. In their first two games in the Pac 12 tournament, Utah scored 39 points. Colorado managed 43.

“They are so athletic,” Rahe said. “Their guards are athletic and they are long inside. But even more than physical ability, they are so well-coached defensively. They just don’t make mistakes. They are never out of position.”

Weber State comes off an 88-67 win over North Dakota in the Big Sky tournament championship game. Rahe called it his team’s best game of the season.

The ‘Cats shot 10-for-22 from the three-point line, mostly because they broke down the defense by playing inside-out and swinging the basketball to open shooters.

The task will be tougher against Arizona.

“Their one-on-one defense — guarding the ball — is terrific,” Rahe said. “You mix their athleticism with great coaching and you’ve got something special.”

The bracketing will also help Arizona’s question for its fifth trip to the Final Four.

If they keep advancing, the Wildcats will play in close-to-home San Diego and Anaheim before the national semifinals.

If the seeding holds in the West Regional, Arizona will play No. 8 Gonzaga, No. 4 San Diego State and the winner of the No. 2/3 game between Creighton and Wisconsin

Arizona won its only national championship 17 years ago with an 84-79 victory over North Carolina.

Last year, Arizona defeated Belmont (81-64) and Harvard (74-51) in the opening rounds in Salt Lake City before losing to Ohio State, 77-75, in the Sweet 16.

No. 1 Arizona vs. No. 16 Weber State

O Friday, 12:10 p.m.

At San Diego

TV • TNT