SEATTLE -- One thing is for certain, Cinderella doesn't wear Heels.
Weber State claimed the Cinderella role as the Wildcats stunned the basketball world with a stirring 76-74 win over third-seeded North Carolina."The players had more confidence about the game today than I did," said departing Weber State coach Ron Abegglen. "I was a nervous wreck over there."
Harold Arceneaux lived up to every bit of his nickname as he was indeed, "The Show."
The 6-foot-6 junior wowed the sellout crowd with a dazzling array of drives, long-range bombs and heady play. In a rare moment, Seattle adopted a Utah team as its own and cheered them as if they were the Sonics.
The win gives the 25-7 Wildcats, just a 14th-seeded team, an unexpected date with Florida Saturday afternoon.
"We're just happy to be here, and we're glad it's not over," said an elated but controlled Abegglen.
Weber State came out with guns blazing and no apparent sign of awe.
Arceneaux scored 16 first-half points, hitting a trio of treys, while cohort Eddie Gill chipped in nine points before intermission as the Wildcats did everything they could to make sure the glass slipper fit and came in a lovely shade of purple.
In all, the 'Cats hit seven triples and used a slow, methodical offense to find their spots and hit them with cruel efficiency. With only a handful of mistakes over the first 20 minutes, the Wildcats held a 35-33 lead at the half over the glamour boys.
"That was about as good as it gets," Abegglen said. "I thought we executed offensively about as well as we possibly could. We talked about the things we could do better in the second half, and the team throughout the day had a lot of confidence in what we were doing."
Cota also did just about everything for the Tar Heels. The junior point guard scored 10 points, dished out six assists and effectively limited the Wildcats' fast-break opportunities. He finished the game with a strong line of 20 points, 10 assists and three steals, but he and Ademola Okulaja didn't get much help from their teammates.
"We did not have an answer for Arceneaux," admitted Carolina coach Bill Guthridge. "He was sensational. They kept hitting all of those threes, and we did not have an answer."
Weber State bombed away from outside the arc. The 'Cats hit 14 total treys to help compensate for a bad day at the boards.
Carolina used its brawn advantage well as the Tar Heels grabbed 15 offensive rebounds and enjoyed a 12-rebound margin at the end of the game. But Weber's quickness and successful ball handling were too much to overcome.
"I luckily got open, and I luckily hit some shots," Arceneaux said. "That was part of the game plan, and I was lucky enough to get some good looks."
And while the Weber stars were doing their jobs well, the backups were getting it done, too.
Abegglen went to his bench liberally in the first half with Joey Haws, Eric Ketchem and Dan Del Vecchio each seeing early playing time as the Wildcats made sure no starter had more than one foul heading into the second half.
While the Key Arena crowd had firmly hopped on the Wildcat bandwagon, it wasn't an easy feeling.
In each of the three previous games, the lower seeded team held a second-half lead only to falter down the stretch. Only Gonzaga had managed to hold on and beat the higher-seeded opponent, and that might have been only thanks to four Minnesota players riding the pine after being suspended.
But the Wildcats weren't ready to wilt under the heat.
Gill ripped a 3-pointer on the break seconds into the final period, and Marc Lawson buried back-to-back bombs to give the Wildcats a nine-point cushion with 16:35 to play.
"I don't think anybody gave us a lot of a chance, coming out of the Big Sky, which some consider a mediocre league" said Wildcat guard Noel Jackson. "I don't call this an upset. We knew we were going to win. At that point, you could almost see the Tar Heels start to crack. Center Brenden Haywood started getting feisty."
With Andy Jensen bodying the 7-footer, Haywood openly gestured that he wanted the ball in a bad way.
He got it, but missed badly. Guthridge soon pulled him out of the game.
"They did a really good job of not letting us use our size," Guthridge said. "When we would get the ball inside, they were moving us out. We tried to play our two big guys, but we could not cover them at the other end."Comment on this story
By using a smaller lineup, North Carolina was able to chip away at Weber State's lead and eventually got it down to just a point in the last minute, but Weber State was able to hold on with clutch free-throw shooting.
"As long as we kept getting two, they were going to have to keep on hitting (big shots)," Gill said.
The Wildcats nailed 8 of 10 free throws in the final 40 seconds to stave off the late Carolina rally and leave the Heels feeling even more blue than usual.
However, not until Arceneaux intercepted a desperation long pass as the buzzer sounded did the game's outcome feel secure.