Both the Wildcats of Arizona and Weber State clawed their way to the final buzzer, but Arizona was able to outlast a scrappy Weber State team 68-59 Friday in San Diego.
Despite a sluggish start for Arizona and a late-game run by Weber State, the Wildcats of Arizona held on behind a stellar performance from junior guard Nick Johnson who went for 18 points on the afternoon.
“[Weber State has] tremendous scorers,” Johnson told CBS following his team’s win. “We knew it was going to be a tough game…. We just had to punch back when they gave us punches. They are a good team and gave us a hard fight, but we pulled it out.”
Star freshman Aaron Gordon also chipped in 16 points to go along with four blocks and sophomore Kaleb Tarczewski added 10 points and five blocks for Arizona.
Weber State was led by Davion Berry who went 5-for-18 from the field and shot a perfect 10-for-10 from the charity stripe, amassing 24 points against the No. 1-seeded Wildcats. Arizona head coach Sean Miller praised Weber State and Berry in particular.
“Weber State is one of the best teams we’ve played all year,” Miller told CBS. “[Berry] is a tremendous guard. We couldn’t keep them off the glass. I’m glad we were able to advance and play on Sunday. You really have to enjoy the tournament. All of us do this for March…. We have to be a team that plays to win and enjoys being out here.”
Arizona avoided becoming the latest victim of upset on Friday after Duke was upended by Mercer and the Stanford Cardinal took down the Lobos of New Mexico. Aaron Gordon and his Arizona Wildcats found themselves with an eight-point deficit within the first six minutes of play, but his team was able to outrun the quick-trigger three-point shooting of Weber State to go into the half with a 32-20 lead.
Weber State proved they were not intimidated by a much larger Arizona team as the Wildcats in purple were able to outscore Arizona 39-36 in the second half behind Berry and sophomore forward Joel Bolomboy’s game-high 16 rebounds.
Arizona came into this game at 30-4 and Weber State was 19-11. Coach Miller’s squad will take on the winner of this afternoon’s Gonzaga-Oklahoma State game on Sunday.
After spending two seasons as a solid reserve at Weber State it looked as if guard Gelaun Wheelwright would be in position to earn starter’s minutes in 2013-14 due to the graduation of Scott Bamforth, who averaged 14.0 points and 3.8 rebounds per game on a team that won 30 games last season. Alas that won’t be the case, as the school announced that the program and Wheelwright have parted ways.
“It was a mutual decision between me and Gelaun and we both decided it was time for him to have a change of environment and move on to a different situation,” Weber State head coach Randy Rahe said in the release. “We appreciatee all Gelaun has done for us and we wish him nothing but the best in his future in whatever he decides to do. We will help along the way in anyway we can.”
In two seasons at Weber State the Corona, Calif. native averaged 6.0 points and 2.2 rebounds per game, shooting 41.7% from the field and 32.5% from beyond the arc. With the aforementioned Bamforth out of eligibility, the thought of many was that Wheelwright would slide into the vacated position alongside seniors Jordan Richardson and Davion Berry.
Losing Wheelwright hurts from an experience standpoint, but according to Jonathan Reed of Big Sky Basketball by no means is this a crippling blow to the Wildcats’ hopes of winning the Big Sky crown.
In the end, it seemed like Wheelwright was coming into a great situation, but things never clicked 100%. At times, it seemed like he wanted to do his own thing, or make the fancy play rather than the simple one. However, he’s very talented, and his absence will test the great depth the Wildcats would have enjoyed. It’s not an insurmountable loss, but it’s a blow for Randy Rahe.
Weber State adds two true freshmen on the perimeter in Richaud Gittens and Jeremy Senglin, but neither is seen as a player capable of spelling Richardson at the point when he needs a rest. Could this mean more on-ball duty for Berry, who led the Wildcats in scoring (15.2 ppg) and assists (3.8 apg) in 2012-13? That may indeed be the case, as Berry finished the season with an assist rate of 23.7 and a turnover rate of 15.7, ranking 11th and 20th in the Big Sky in those respective categories per kenpom.com.
Coach Rahe and his staff will have some adjustments to make, but Weber State will still be one of the favorites to win the Big Sky this season.