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Weber State's biggest problem? Arizona defense

Published March 21, 2014 8:37 am

Wildcats could struggle to score many points against West's top seed.
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San Diego • Before Weber State can think about upsetting powerful Arizona in the NCAA Tournament, the Wildcats must figure out how to score.

Arizona rode an unrelenting defense to a 30-4 record and the No. 1 seed in the West Region.

Weber State, the No. 16 seed, led the Big Sky Conference in scoring and 3-point shooting. The Wildcats dropped 88 points in North Dakota in the championship game of the league tournament.

Arizona, however, is a different animal.

The Pac-12 regular-season champion ranks fifth nationally in scoring defense (58.1). It leads the country in points allowed per 100 possession (86.6).

In the opening rounds of the conference tournament, Utah scored 39 points and Colorado managed 43 against vise-like Arizona.

"It's going to be a challenge, obviously," said Weber State coach Randy Rahe. "They are very impressive to watch. I've actually enjoyed watching them on film, just because how well-coached they are. It's a [defensive] system I'd like to study, when it's all said and done."

The key to Arizona's defense is quickness and length on the perimeter along with size and muscle around the basket.

Opponents shoot 38.1 percent against the Wildcats, who are coached by Sean Miller.

"I'd sure like to guard like they guard," Rahe said. "What they have is high-level athletes and high-level ability. When you mix great coaching in with that — and Sean is a fabulous coach — that's pretty special. That's where they are special."

Weber State's hope of springing the first No. 1 vs. No. 16 upset in tournament history will likely depend on its ability to drain shots from distance.

Freshman Jeremy Senglin shoots 40.4 percent from the 3-point line. Davion Berry shoots 38.3 percent.

The Wildcats went 10 for 22 on 3-pointers in the Big Sky title game win over North Dakota — something they must duplicate against Arizona.

"We can't hurry ourselves," Rahe said. "We have to be patient. We have to try and get the shot we want. But this team, this year, has done a great job with shot selection. We usually get good shots."

A good start will help.

"Hopefully," Rahe said, "we can make a couple early and get some confidence going."

According to Miller, Arizona won't get caught looking ahead to the Gonzaga-Oklahoma State winner in the Round of 32.

"Weber State … is a very good team and very well-coached team," he said. "We have to be ready or we won't advance. It's as simple as that."

Weber State has pulled off some gigantic upsets in the NCAA Tournament, although it's been awhile.

As a No. 14 seed in 1998, Weber defeated North Carolina, 76-74. In 1995, the 14th-seeded Wildcats stunned Michigan State, 79-72.

If Weber State beats Arizona, it will just as surprising — maybe more so.

"We haven't really thought about it," Berry said. "We just approach this game like any other — stay loose, play free and easy, stick to the game plan."

Senior Jordan Richardson agrees.

"We feel like we're playing our best basketball of the season," he said. "We're not scared of anybody. We played UCLA and we weren't intimidated and I feel like we're playing great basketball. So we're ready … for the moment."

Now, if the Wildcats can just score.

"When you have opportunity, there's hope," Rahe said. "That's what we are going to take into that game. Our kids aren't afraid. They are going to come out, play their game and see what happens."

luhm@sltrib.com —

Weber St. vs. Arizona

P Friday, 12:10 p.m.







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