OGDEN — Over the next couple days, Weber State’s basketball team will be thrust into an environment none of its players has ever experienced. There will be distractions at every turn in the circus that is the Big Dance.
As far as coach Randy Rahe is concerned, he wants his players to soak it up.
“I’ve been through the NCAA tournament quite a few times, the distractions are unavoidable,” said Rahe. “There’s going to be media sessions when you get down there, you go to the arena to shoot, you’ve got TV people. So I told them we’re going to enjoy the heck out of it. I want them to enjoy it, I want them to embrace it, and then 11 o’clock on Friday we’re going to go bring it.”
Rahe said some coaches try to hide their players from the distractions, restricting such things as phone calls, social media or TV watching. There are no such restrictions for 16th-seed Weber State ahead of its first-round clash against No. 1-seed Arizona this Friday in San Diego (12:10 p.m. MDT).
“I want them to really enjoy the whole process of it,” said Rahe. “And I want the young guys to enjoy and take it in, and hopefully that freshman crew (and sophomore Joel Bolomboy), hopefully we can get them back there and now they’ll really know what it’s all about.”
That scenario sounds great to freshman starter Jeremy Senglin, who averages 11.2 ppg.
“I know (the seniors) wanted it real bad, and I wanted it real bad too coming in,” said Senglin. “I’m trying to do it all four years I’m here.”
Fellow freshman Richaud Gittens is the leading scorer off the bench for the Wildcats, while sophomore starter Bolomboy was named the Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year.
TOUGH NUT TO CRACK: The Arizona Wildcats only lost four games all season, and their fifth-ranked scoring defense that only allows 58.1 ppg is a big reason why.
“It’s a combination of athleticism, length and a really high basketball ability that they have,” said Rahe. “Then you combine that with great coaching, and Sean Miller is a great coach.
“He’s a terrific defensive coach, he always has been, and now he has the horses to really play the way he wants to play, and those kids buy into defense and they understand where their bread’s buttered. They’re phenomenal. They’re as good a defensive team as I’ve seen the last three or four years.”
The Weber State opponent that compares best to Arizona athletically would be UCLA, which beat the Wildcats 83-60 back on Dec. 22.
Senglin knows the challenge his team faces defensively but is excited about the challenge.
“They just play real hard all the time, their athleticism and their size. I feel we’ve got a good chance against them, we don’t back down against anyone no matter who it is,” said Senglin.
MASSIVE UNDERDOG: Since the NCAA tournament field expanded to 64 teams in 1985 (and later to 65 and then 68), No. 16 seeds are 0-116 in the first round.
That daunting history hasn’t scared off Weber State since learning it was paired with No. 1-seed Arizona.
“Arizona is a great team, they earned a No. 1 seed, but we’ll be ready to play, we’re not going to come out scared, we don’t care who we play,” said Weber State guard Jordan Richardson.
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