SAN DIEGO – Eventually, one day, a No. 16 seed will finally beat a No. 1 in the NCAA tournament, but it won’t come against a team that defends like Arizona.
The Wildcats, who led the nation this season in Ken Pomeroy’s defensive efficiency ratings and opponents’ effective field goal percentage, held earnest Weber State (who are also nicknamed the Wildcats) to 25 percent shooting in the first half on Friday, and 30 percent for the game, en route to a deceptively close 68-59 victory in the West region.
Arizona led by as many as 21 points well into the second half before allowing the Wildcats to narrow the deficit to single digits in the last few minutes. Credit Weber State star Davion Berry, the Big Sky Conference’s MVP. Berry made only 5-of-20 shots and had two lay-up attempts violently blocked by Arizona 7-footer Kaleb Tarczewski, but he never stopped attacking. He finished with a game-high 24 points in large part by getting to the line and draining all 10 of his free-throw attempts.
The crazy thing is, the Berry-led comeback almost succeeded despite the fact that Arizona shot 57 percent in the second half.
The Wildcats got a typically splendid performance from All-America guard Nick Johnson, who hit 4-of-6 of his three-point shots and scored a team-high 18 points. When Weber State first cut the deficit to nine, at 60-51 with 4:29 left, Johnson promptly quieted the suddenly emboldened non-Arizona half of the crowd with a dagger three-pointer from the corner. He was also the primary defender on Berry, chasing him all over the court. Arizona freshman Aaron Gordon also had a solid tourney debut, with 16 points and eight rebounds.
But Wildcats coach Sean Miller will have plenty of material for nitpicking after his team took its foot off the gas pedal too soon. It won’t have that luxury in its next game.
There was one silver lining for Weber State. During a media timeout in the second half, its mascot, Waldo the Wildcat, wowed the crowd by doing a handstand on a pair of megaphones. One of the officials, Anthony Jordan, was so impressed that he grabbed his partner, Mark Whitehead, to make sure he was watching. Jordan then turned to the cheerleaders and said: “I can’t do that.”
Nor can a 16 beat a 1. At least not yet.
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