Wildcats are top dogs in the West

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A loss in the Pac-12 title game didn’t hurt Arizona when it came to seeding the NCAA tournament.

Despite their loss to UCLA on Saturday night in Las Vegas, the Wildcats (30-4) are No. 1 in the West Region and will open against No. 16 Weber State on Thursday in San Diego.

Arizona got the top spot based on its regular season, one that started with a school-record 21 straight wins and included the Pac-12 regular-season title despite losing forward Brandon Ashley for the season with an injured foot on Feb. 1.

“To see a No. 1 seed, no one has to tell us how hard it is to do,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “It’s an achievement in and of itself to be thought of. It’s very hard-earned. You don’t get that seed through reputation, you get it through performance.”

The Wildcats are the top dogs in the West, but they’ll have a tough road. Get past the Big Sky version of the Wildcats (19-11) and Arizona will face the winner between Oklahoma State and Gonzaga.

The rest of the West bracket is filled with strong teams, too, including No. 2 seed Wisconsin, No. 3 Creighton with player-of-the-year front-runner Doug McDermott, San Diego State, Oregon and Baylor.

That’s four ranked teams standing in the way of fourth-ranked Arizona in a regional that will conclude Mar. 27-29 at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif.

Wisconsin (26-7) had been in the running for a No. 1 seed before losing to Michigan State in the Big Ten tournament semifinals. The 12th-ranked Badgers still will be a tough out with a defense that’s always one of the best in the country under coach Bo Ryan.

Wisconsin will have a short trip, too, opening Thursday in Milwaukee against American, the Patriot League champions who went from 10-20 a year ago to a 22-10 season to reach the NCAA tournament for the third time.

“They won’t hear from me that we’re a two seed, they won’t hear from me that we’re in Milwaukee,” Ryan said. “My guys are pretty smart. They know what’s at stake.”

Get past American and Wisconsin will play the winner of what should be an electric game between Oregon (23-9) and BYU (23-11), two of the nation’s fastest-paced and highest-scoring teams. They played once already this season, with the Ducks winning a home overtime game that featured nearly 200 combined points and nearly as many highlight-reel plays.

The Cougars might have a hard time keeping up this time, though, after guard Kyle Collinsworth suffered a torn ACL in the WCC title game.

The Gonzaga-Oklahoma State game could be a good one, too.

The Zags pulled off a West Coast Conference sweep and are one of the nation’s most underrated teams. Oklahoma State has one of the best players around in guard Marcus Smart and shook off a funk while he was suspended for shoving a fan with a strong finish to the season.

In San Antonio, McDermott will start his final go-round in the NCAA tournament after the Bluejays (26-7) lost to Providence in the Big East championship game. The senior led the nation in scoring at 26.8 points per game, is pretty much everyone’s pick as the national player of the year and will certainly want to go out with a bang.

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