Time to dance, ladies and gentlemen.
The NCAA Tournament is here. Everything the Arizona Wildcats have worked for this season has led to the position they are in today. Not only are they the Pac-12 regular season champions and top seed in the West Region, but they only needed to travel 407 miles to San Diego for their opening game.
The only team that matters right now to Sean Miller and his Wildcats is the Weber State Wildcats, so that is all we are going to talk about today. Here are some facts about the Big Sky Conference champions:
- They shoot the ball very well. Arizona’s swarming man-to-man defense will have a great test today versus this Wildcat team that is 20th in the country in field goal percentage, sitting at 48.1%.
- The team has three players from Arizona. Kyle Tresnak is the starting senior center who attended Horizon HS in Scottsdale, AZ. Freshman sixth man Richaud Gittens hails from Marcos De Niza HS in Tempe, AZ, and senior role player Byron Fulton went to St. Mary’s HS in Phoenix, AZ.
- The Wildcats and Wildcats only have one common opponent this year: UCLA. Weber State lost to the Bruins 83-60, as UCLA’s outstanding point guard Kyle Anderson had a field day with 23 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 steals. Arizona defeated UCLA 79-75 in Westwood on Jan. 9, but fell to the Bruins in the Pac-12 tournament title game last week, 75-71.
- Weber State did win its regular season title in the Big Sky, but not by an overwhelming margin. They went 14-6, but 10th place finisher Idaho State pulled off an 8-12 record, only six games behind.
- Last year’s NBA Rookie of the Year, Damian Lillard, played at Weber State.
Now the Wildcats-squared will face off today at 11:10 PDT/MST at the Viejas Arena in San Diego, CA. The top-seeded Cats are favored by 20 points, and look to continue the long-lasting trend of a 16-seed never defeating a 1-seed.
The theme of this tournament is “Survive and Advance.” This is how the Arizona Wildcats can do just that:
- Defense. Defense. Defense. Arizona has earned the respect of being one of, if not the best, defensive team in the country. It all starts in the backcourt with Pac-12 All-Defensive Team guards T.J. McConnell and Nick Johnson. These two are the leaders of the team and set the tempo for the game. The UA lives and dies with these two. Their first test will be to stop Big Sky player of the year Davion Berry.
- Free throws. Standing 15 feet from a basket with nobody guarding you should not be an issue for a skilled basketball player. Unfortunately for this Arizona team, it has been an issue. Johnson has the best free throw percentage on the team with a decent 76.9%. The team as a whole shoots 65.5%. March Madness is known for having close, grind it out games where free throw shooting is crucial. Arizona needs to figure it out and make their free throws in crunch time to avoid heartbreak.
- Set the tone. One thing we do know: There will be many Arizona Wildcats fans at UA games, no matter the location. The classic “U of A” chants will be heard throughout the Viejas Arena, and one way to get this fan base fired up is by Arizona playing at its best. Whether it be a Gabe York three-pointer or an Aaron Gordon reverse dunk, the Arizona Cats need to play with swagger in order to survive.
Arizona is coming off a tough loss to UCLA in the Pac-12 tournament, but I believe they will bounce back and play like the No. 1 seed they are. I’ve got the Tucson Wildcats defeating the Ogden Wildcats by a score of 76-52.
And always remember, “Nastiness is required.”
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