Our kids aren’t going to be afraid. They’re going to come out and play their game and see what happens. —Weber State coach Randy Rahe
SAN DIEGO — Zero.
That’s the number of times a No. 16 seed has upset a No. 1 seed in 116 chances over the past 29 years of the NCAA tournament.
Some believe it’s never going to happen, the gap in talent is simply too wide between the power conference teams and the little guys. Others, including Weber State coach Randy Rahe, believe it’s gotta happen someday.
The Big Sky Coach of the Year would love for that historical moment to be Friday when 16th-seed Weber State takes on heavily favored Arizona at 12:10 p.m. MDT in the second round of the Big Dance at the Viejas Arena.
“We’ll see what happens tomorrow,” Rahe said at Thursday’s press conference. “From our standpoint, all you want is an opportunity to have a chance to do that, and if you have an opportunity there’s hope, and that’s what we’re going to take into that game tomorrow.
“Our kids aren’t going to be afraid. They’re going to come out and play their game and see what happens.”
For a team that struggled throughout a difficult preseason and won just 19 games this season, the WSU Wildcats are surprisingly confident.
Senior center Kyle Tresnak said it has as much to do with disrespect.
“We’ve thought of ourselves as an underdog all season. We didn’t start off well, we had a tough non-conference schedule, and in the midseason poll with the coaches they chose us fifth in the conference, so we’ve always kind of had that chip on our shoulder and we we’re always out to prove something,” said Tresnak. “It hasn’t really changed from then to now.”
Proving people wrong and winning the Big Sky Conference is one thing. Competing with a 30-win Arizona team is an entirely different animal.
Arizona heads into the NCAA tourney ranked fourth in the country after spending a huge chunk of the season ranked No. 1, and is led by Pac-12 Player of the Year Nic Johnson and Pac-12 Freshman of the Year Aaron Gordon — a likely one-and-doner who will be an NBA lottery pick this summer.
To have a chance, Weber State’s Jordan Richardson said his team can’t dig themselves into an early hole.
“It’s going to be very important to have a fast start. Arizona is a great team, they were No. 1 for most part of the season. I feel like if we don’t let them get in transition and get a fast start and keep it close in the first half we’ll keep it close in the second,” said Richardson.
In the Pac-12 tournament last week, Arizona jumped out to a commanding 34-13 lead against Utah and rode the early momentum to a 71-39 victory.
Arizona coach Sean Miller is hoping for a similar performance against Weber State, and is urging his team to ignore the seeds.
“We can’t get caught up in our seed versus the seed that we’re playing. This is a basketball game in the NCAA tournament, and what we have talked a lot about is we’re trying to be a good team tomorrow,” said Miller. “How can we play our best? What are the things that we need to make sure we have cleaned up coming into this tournament?”
Miller was very complimentary about Weber State’s offensive execution and said their ability to knock down 3-pointers from multiple positions can present problems.
Most pundits believe the only way a No. 16 seed is ever going to shock the basketball world is from the 3-point line. Last year in Salt Lake City, 9th-seeded Wichita State beat top seed Gonzaga in the third round by knocking down 14 3-pointers.
Weber State averages 7.2 3-pointers per game and shoots 39.2 percent. The ’Cats made 10 3-pointers in two of their last three games, and they’ll need to continue that strong shooting to try to keep it close.
“I feel like we’re playing the best basketball of the season right now, we’re not afraid of anybody,” said Richardson. “We played UCLA earlier this season and we weren’t intimidated. But I feel like right now we’re playing great basketball and we’re ready for the situation.”