Providing the biggest upset of the early rounds in the 2013 NCAA Tournament, the 14th-seeded Harvard Crimson are back in action on Saturday as they tangle with the sixth-seeded Arizona Wildcats in the third round of the West Regional at EnergySolutions Arena.
Thanks to an early defensive stand and some timely 3-point baskets, the Crimson found themselves as the latest Cinderella Story for the postseason as they stunned third-seeded and 10th-ranked New Mexico on Thursday night by a score of 68-62. For Harvard, it was the first win ever in the NCAA Tournament, and the first for an Ivy League program since Cornell advanced to the Sweet 16 in 2010.
As for the Wildcats, a squad which is an impressive 13-3 since 1985 during the round of the NCAA Tournament when there are 32 teams still fighting for survival, they bounced back from their loss to UCLA in the Pac-12 Tournament last week by thumping Belmont in the second round on Thursday by a score of 81-64. With the victory, the Wildcats are now 47-26 in this event all-time, after taking into consideration previous decisions that had to be vacated.
In terms of the all-time series between these teams, Arizona has won both previous matchups. The first encounter took place back in 1966 with the Wildcats slipping by with a 59-58 victory in Tucson, and then 11 years later host Arizona did it again, this time much more convincingly in an 83-60 final.
The winner of this contest heads to the Sweet 16 against an opponent to be determined.
As had been the issue with the Lobos all season long, they had one of their notorious scoring blackouts against Harvard during the first seven minutes of their meeting on Thursday, falling behind 9-2 before finally getting a wake-up call. Obviously, the Crimson could not count on New Mexico being inept offensively for an entire 40 minutes, but there were enough cold spells along the way that once the clock reached zero the Ivy squad had its biggest win in program history.
Except for Siyani Chambers who chose to hand out seven assists instead of focusing on his own scoring output, every starter for the Crimson landed in double figures, beginning with Wesley Saunders who tallied 18 points. Laurent Rivard added 17 points as he knocked down 5-of-9 shots behind the 3-point line, Christian Webber tacked on 11 points and Kenyatta Smith logged 10 points and seven boards before fouling out.
Playing more than 37 minutes per game as he shoots an impressive 53.8 percent from the floor, Saunders continues to pace the Crimson in scoring with his 16.5 ppg, while Chambers augments his nearly six assists per outing with 12.6 ppg, followed by Rivard (10.6 ppg) who barely knows what it is like to attempt a shot from inside the 3-point line these days.
Belmont has been a fixture in this tournament for several years now, but dominating in the Atlantic Sun Conference and now the Ohio Valley is a lot different than clashing with the likes of Arizona and the big boys of college basketball. Granted, the Wildcats turned the ball over 16 times on Thursday, but at the same time the squad shot 56.9 percent from the floor and 9-of-17 beyond the arc, not to mention crushing the Bruins on the glass by a massive 44-18 margin.
Mark Lyons led the way with a game-high 23 points, while Nick Johnson, Kaleb Tarczewski and Kevin Parrom all tallied 12 points, the last two also clearing eight rebounds apiece as the Wildcats cruised to the easy win.
Rebounding has been a key stat for Arizona all season long, beating opponents on the glass by almost seven boards per game at this point, thanks to having a total of four players who are pulling down at least five rebounds per game. Tops on that list is Tarczewski with his 6.1 rpg, which fits nicely with his 6.6 ppg.
Taking care of the bulk of the scoring for Arizona are Lyons (15.0 ppg), Solomon Hill (13.3 ppg) and Johnson (11.7 ppg), each of whom has started all 33 games for head coach Sean Miller this season.