Greg Hansen: Weber State could produce fear, back in the day

2014-03-17T00:00:00Z 2014-03-17T00:48:50Z Greg Hansen: Weber State could produce fear, back in the dayGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

You don’t know diddly about the Weber State Wildcats, and you don’t care. They are road kill.

You aren’t sure how to properly pronounce it.

WEEB-er?

WEB-ur?

Who cares?

As is customary the day after Selection Sunday, you run your finger down Arizona’s bracket and keep on moving until you spot trouble. You do not stop on the line that says WEBER STATE. You keep on moving until Gonzaga interrupts your journey.

How long have the Zags had those guards, Stockton and Pangos? Aren’t they 25 years old by now?

Trouble.

Your finger doesn’t get to an Elite Eight matchup against Team McDermott, Creighton, because you wonder how in the wide, wide world of Dick Vitale that Oklahoma State ever fell to a No. 9 seed.

Didn’t OSU beat Kansas? It did. Big trouble.

Weber State? Nothing.

I used to live in fear of the Weber Wildcats. Nobody used the “State” part when I was in college. It was Weber. The Wildcats were really good. How good? They were better than Arizona and ASU and anybody except UCLA in the old Pac-8.

By the time I arrived at Weber State’s old fieldhouse in the 1972 basketball season, I was fully briefed on the unholy conditions that awaited my team, Utah State.

Weber State was a signature basketball program in the West, a slot below UCLA and Long Beach State, but nobody else. The Wildcats were the middle of six consecutive years in the NCAA tournament.

Only John Wooden did that then. John Wooden and Weber State.

The Weber Wildcats (that’s WEE-bur, rhymes with WIL-bur) had two coaches from small Idaho towns, Dick Motta and Phil Johnson , who would become NBA Coaches of the Year. They had star players like Willie Sojourner and Justus Thigpen, who were better than anyone Arizona could put on the court.

I was the basketball manager at Utah State that year, and when we got off the bus, dressed into our road blue uniforms and walked out to warm up, the old arena was jammed. Weber State could squeeze 4,500 fans into a place that fire marshals deemed safe for about 3,500.

It was full an hour before tip.

They didn’t like the Aggies at all.

As I walked onto the court, our star player, Jim Boatwright, took a look around and said, “We’ll get ’em at our place.”

I remember Boatwright’s line every time I step into a hostile basketball arena, especially some place like Oregon’s old Mac Court, and that night in 1972 was one of the reasons Weber State spent millions to build a spacious arena five years later, one that has since played host to eight NCAA tournament games.

Until Lute Olson came along in 1983-84, Weber State had a superior basketball program to Arizona.

That was 30 years ago. Now it has been flipped.

Arizona has enjoyed ridiculously easy opening victories in the NCAA tournament.

Robert Morris. Cornell. St. Francis. Valpo. None of those teams has the history of Weber State.

History won’t help the 16th-seeded Wildcats beat the No. 1-seeded Wildcats on Friday in San Diego, but when you’ve been there before, as Weber State has, you don’t walk into the arena and say “it’s nice just to get this far.”

In March 1999, a few hours after Arizona had been eliminated by 13th-seeded Oklahoma, I walked from a downtown Milwaukee hotel to a sports bar to watch that night’s NCAA first-round games. Weber State was on the big screen, playing mighty North Carolina.

Over the next two hours, that Milwaukee sports bar turned into a madhouse, everyone on their feet, raising hell, sending good vibes to the Weber State Wildcats.

And it worked.

Weber State made 14 three-point buckets that night and sent the Tar Heels home.

The only time I’ve been in Weber State’s new (well, it was new in 1977) Dee Events Center was at the 1980 NCAA tournament. I was living in Oregon, a beat writer covering Oregon State, 26-3, the Pac-10 champions.

The No. 2-seeded Beavers drew a first-round bye in the days of a 48-team tournament and didn’t bother to go to the arena to watch 10th-seeded Lamar shock hometown Weber State 87-86 in a wild opening game.

Two days later, Lamar sent mighty Oregon State home, winning 81-77.

Yes, Lamar.

I remember walking quietly into the OSU locker room after that game, a sob-fest, a team

bent on the Final Four being eliminated in, of all places, Ogden, Utah, by a team whose nickname (the Cardinals) they didn’t even know.

Weber State doesn’t have a player you’ve heard of; NBA star Damian Lilliard has been gone for two years. So what? One year it’s Lamar. At another time it’s first-round Arizona-slayers Santa Clara and East Tennessee State.

Sooner or later, trouble awaits.

Don’t sleep on Weber State.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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