The No. 1 Arizona Wildcats’ march in the madness that is the NCAA tournament continues after a 68-59 victory over a pesky No. 16 Weber State team this afternoon at San Diego’s Viejas Arena.
Arizona (31-4) will face the winner of No. 8 Gonzaga and No. 9 Oklahoma State on Sunday.
Arizona can't defend FTs. UCLA and Weber State combined to make 40 of 48. (UA 15 of 32).
“We’re fortunate to win and we had a couple of guys not play (well) today,” Arizona coach Sean Miller told TNT after the game. “No question we got careless. I’ll tell you the 16-1 game is not easy because the crowd starts cheering against you at the beginning of the game and you’re a little tight.
“We were both. I’m just glad we were able to advance and I hope that we play better on Sunday. If not, we’ll be done.”
The Wildcats have won four consecutive opening round games in the NCAA tournament dating to the 2008 first-round ouster by West Virginia. They are 19-12 overall in the opening round. Miller has a personal five-game winning streak in the opening stanza, including three with Arizona (2011, 2013 and this season).
Arizona’s defense was the difference against Weber State, which took advantage of the Wildcats’ faltering execution late in the second half to make the game interesting.
The Wildcats limited Weber State to a season-low 30.8 percent shooting from the field. Arizona also tallied 12 blocked shots, a record for the program in the NCAA tournament. The previous record was 11 against UTEP in the 1987 NCAA tournament at McKale Center.
Kaleb Tarczewski and Aaron Gordon each had five blocked shots. Their total ties the fifth-most blocked shots in Arizona’s NCAA tournament history.
Arizona’s decision-making on offense, defense of the three late in second half against Weber State, rebounding and free-throw shooting are significant question marks heading into the Round of 32 games.
The Wildcats had 12 turnovers and were outrebounded by Weber State 32-31. Weber State forward Joel Bolomboy finished with a game-high 16 rebounds. He led an effort that allowed Weber State to have 13 offensive boards compared to only seven by Arizona. Weber State had 16 second-chance points.
Arizona finished 9 of 16 from the free-throw line compared to Weber State’s 20 of 23 performance. In the last two games against UCLA and Weber State, Arizona has been outscored 40-15 at the line.
After Arizona took its biggest lead of 53-32 with 10:34 remaining in the game, Weber State took advantage of Arizona’s lack of execution against its zone defense. Weber State outscored Arizona 19-7 to cut the lead to 60-51 with 4:30 remaining.
Arizona had three of its turnovers in that spell.
Arizona is 15th No. 1 seed to win its Round of 64 gm by single digits. Happened twice last year (Gonzaga & Kansas), in case you forgot.
Nick Johnson, who led a balanced scoring effort with 18 points, nailed a pivotal three-pointer to turn back the Weber State rally. The shot put Arizona ahead 63-51 with 4:11 remaining.
Weber State cut the lead to 66-59 with 28 seconds remaining on a Jordan Richardson three-pointer but it was too late. Arizona held on against the 22-point underdogs. Weber State outscored Arizona 39-36 in the second half.
“You have to enjoy the tournament,” Miller said when asked what he would tell his players. “All of us do this for March. All of us do this for the chance to get to a Final Four. If you’re out there playing and you’re worrying and you’re tight, it’s just no fun.
“We have to be a team that plays to win and enjoys to be out here. That’s what we’ve done all year. Today, we didn’t do that as a team.”
Johnson was one of four Arizona players who scored in double figures. The others were Gordon (16), Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (13) and Tarczewski (10). Gabe York finished with nine points, although he had eight early to wake Arizona up from an early 10-2 deficit.
T.J. McConnell went scoreless missing his four field goal attempts. He had four assists with two turnovers.
The play at the point guard position must improve for the Wildcats to advance further in the NCAA tournament.