2:10 PM ET, March 21, 2014
Viejas Arena at Aztec Bowl, San Diego, California
SAN DIEGO -- Arizona opened the NCAA tournament with a victory, exactly what a No. 1 seed is supposed to do.
The way it happened, with that jittery start and ease-off-the-gas-pedal finish, the Wildcats will likely hear those upset picks even more now.
Anxious early and a bit too comfortable late, top-seeded Arizona pulled out a 69-59 win over Weber State in the West Regional on Friday, a victory that's unlikely to change predictions that the Wildcats will lose in the next round.
"We are fortunate to advance and I know the next game will be a terrific game," Arizona coach Sean Miller said. "One of my hopes is, (having) one of these under our belts, we will be more ourselves and better on Sunday."
The first full day of the NCAA tournament was a wild one filled with upsets, and the bracket-busting trend continued early Friday, when Mercer, a No. 14 seed, knocked off mighty Duke.
Arizona (31-4) appeared to be next in line, falling into an 8-point hole in the opening 6 minutes.
Arizona closed in around Weber State (19-12), shutting down the Wildcats during two big first-half runs, seemingly putting the fairytale to bed.
Instead of running away, the Wildcats backed off, allowing Weber State to trim a 21-point lead down to nine in the closing minutes.
Arizona pulled out the victory, but it was merely solid, not great, particularly since the next game -- against Gonzaga on Sunday -- is the spot the Wildcats have been picked to go down.
"We won and have to get ready for the next game," said guard Gabe York, who hit a pair of 3-pointers to jump-start Arizona out of its first-half funk. "The thrill of winning, moving on to the next round is what we play for."
Weber State put up a fight in its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2007, clearly not intimidated by Arizona and its cast of future NBA players.
The Wildcats jumped on Arizona early and clawed back when they could have folded, at least making the Wildcats uncomfortable before losing steam.
"We came in expecting to win, trying to win," Weber State coach Randy Rahe said. "The guys did a tremendous job. I thought we could have pulled in the tents and our guys got a little more tough and showed resilience like they have all year."
Arizona had been in this spot before, facing a quick-trigger 3-point shooting team in the opening round.
A year ago, Belmont was a popular bracket buster pick against the Wildcats because of its ability to shoot the 3, but Arizona turned the slight into motivation and ran over the Bruins.
Even after an opening day of upsets in the bracket, there were no calls for one against Arizona this year.
But just as Mercer was busy taking down Duke, Weber State gave the 16-over-a-1-seed miracle a glimpse of life, holding Arizona without a field for nearly 5 minutes during a game-opening 10-2 run.
The dream popped with a flurry of blocked shots, steals and runouts the other direction.
After falling into the early hole, one of the nation's best defenses flexed its muscles against the Big Sky-champion Wildcats, jumping into passing lanes, swatting shots, turning nearly every possession into a fight against the shot clock.
Weber State missed 12 of 13 shots as Arizona went on two big runs and shot 6 of 24 in the first half with nine turnovers that Arizona turned into 12 points.
"They are a great defensive team as we know," Weber State senior guard Jordan Richardson said. "We just had to get good shots and didn't."
The desert Wildcats shook off their early offensive funk with an array of dunks and 3-pointers, racing past Weber State with runs of 14-2 and 13-3 to go up 32-20 at halftime.
Arizona looked as if it was going to run away with it early in the second half, only to watch Weber State scratch a huge lead to under double digits with 4 1-2 minutes left.
Arizona turned back every attempt Weber State made after that to pull out the victory, but will likely face more upset predictions for the third round after this one.
"We know we'll need to play better in the next round," Miller said.
NCAA Mens Tournament
SAN DIEGO, CA - MARCH 21: Kaleb Tarczewski #35 of the Arizona Wildcats blocks a shot taken by Davion Berry #15 of...(Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Around Champ Week
Deciding factor: Arizona wasn't convincing against Weber State, but it got the job done thanks to its shooting -- inside and outside the arc the Wildcats were better than 50 percent.
Player of the game: Aaron Gordon. His first time on the NCAA tournament stage and he posted 16 points, grabbed 8 rebounds and blocked 5 shots.
Key stat: Gordon and teammate Nick Johnson went a combined 13-for-23 from the floor and scored 34 points.
Team Stat Comparison
|FG Made-Attempted||16-53 (.302)||26-47 (.553)|
|3P Made-Attempted||7-17 (.412)||7-14 (.500)|
|FT Made-Attempted||20-23 (.870)||9-16 (.563)|
|Fouls (Tech/Flagrant)||17 (0/0)||20 (0/0)|
|» Mar 21, 2014||@ARIZ 68, WEB 59||Recap|
Arizona outscored Weber State 34-14 in the paint Thursday, improving to 18-0 when it scores at least its season average of 34 points per game in the paint. Entering Friday, Arizona outscored its opponents by 10.7 points per game in the paint, second among major conference teams behind SMU (+12.7). Aaron Gordon led the way for Sean Miller's team with 12 points in the paint, including two dunks.[+]
In the Paint
* Aaron Gordon is just the 5th freshman to have 16 points, 8 rebounds, and 5 blocks in his first NCAA Tournament game in the last 30 years.[+]
16 points, 8 Rebounds, 5 Blocks - Freshmen in 1st Tournament Game
*Arizona allows 7.5 second-chance points per game, fewest among major conference teams (AAC, ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC).
ESPN Stats & Information