Arizona survives and advances
SAN DIEGO — With a 68-59 victory over Weber State on Friday afternoon in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, Arizona survived and advanced.
But don’t tell that to freshman forward Aaron Gordon.
“We’ve got to play 40 minutes,” Gordon said. “That’s what national championship teams do.”
The 11:10 a.m. tipoff Friday was the earliest start to an Arizona game this season. Players said they were up by at the crack of dawn and eating breakfast by 7 a.m.
Freshman forward Aaron Gordon looks for an open teammate during Arizona's 68-59 win over Weber State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in San Diego. Gordon scored 16 points and had five blocks.
The early start time might have held back No. 1 seed Arizona (31-4) as they trailed No. 16 Weber State (19-12) 7-0 to start the game. The Arizona Wildcats would not admit to it though.
“I’ve always been a morning person,” said freshman forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. “If you can’t get up early to do what you love then you don’t love it enough.”
(1) Arizona vs. (8) Gonzaga
When: Sunday, approx. 6:40 p.m. MST/PDT
Arizona will face No. 8 seed Gonzaga at about 6:40 p.m. MST/PDT on Sunday in the third round.
Hollis-Jefferson, who had 13 points on 5-5 shooting in his first NCAA Tournament game, was one of four Arizona players to score in double figures on Friday against WSU. Junior guard Nick Johnson led the way with 18 points, Gordon had 16 points and sophomore center Kaleb Tarczewski had 10 points.
“I felt … comfortable out there,” Hollis-Jefferson said. “At the end of the day its just another game of basketball.”
The win improved the No. 1 seed’s record against No. 16 seeds to 118-0.
The Arizona Wildcats were able to jump back into Friday’s game on the back of sophomore guard Gabe York. The guard connected on his first three shots and had eight of Arizona’s first 12 points. The offensive momentum carried over onto the defense. Arizona forced eight first-half turnovers.
It appeared the top seeded Arizona was going to run away with its opening tournament game. Arizona had a 32-20 lead at the half and pushed it to over 20 points early in the second half.
But the commanding lead wouldn’t hold. The Arizona Wildcats had uncharacteristic late turnovers and saw their lead shrink to only nine points.
“We definitely took our foot off the gas,” Hollis-Jefferson said. “There was definitely a momentum shift.”
Most of WSU’s points during the comeback came from the free throw line. Between 10:00 and 4:00 left in the game Weber State had only one field goal, a 3-pointer from Davion Berry, but scored 10 points at the free throw line. And most of the fouls came late in the shot clock.
WSU scored 20 of its 59 points from free throws, and it made more free throws than Arizona attempted.
“Just a complete lack of discipline,” Arizona head coach Sean Miller said. “You’re going to foul in the game of basketball but the silly reach-ins, especially when the shot clock is that low, it makes it difficult.”
The shift presided following a timeout by Arizona and the nine point win was secured after a late 3-pointer by Johnson.
Despite the poor six minute stretch in the second half the Wildcats’ defense dominated the Weber State offense for most of the game.
WSU finished the game shooting a season low 30 percent from the field. Weber State entered Friday’s game with a 48 percent average.
Its season low prior to Friday was 37.8 percent and had only five games all season where they shot below 40 percent.
“Basketball is a game of runs,” Gordon said. “We’ve got to play at a high level the entire game.”
— Follow Luke Della @LukeDella