A loss that smarts: New Mexico makes early exit with 68-62 defeat against surprising Harvard

Among the provisions New Mexico gave coach Steve Alford in his brand-new, 10-year contract was a $125,000 bonus for making the Final Four.

After their latest disappointing loss in the NCAA tournament, the Lobos will save the money, but feel the pain.

Third-seeded New Mexico was handed the biggest upset on the first full day of play in the NCAA tournament, a 68-62 loss to 14th-seeded Harvard on Thursday night.

The team that won the Mountain West Conference by playing stingy defense all season allowed Harvard to shoot 52 percent.

The team that won despite struggling at times on offense tanked when the stakes were highest, making only 37 percent of its shots. Take away Alex Kirk's 9-for-18 effort and the percentage goes down to 31.

"We can't shoot for them," Alford said. "We've had games like that, several games where we haven't shot the ball well. It's a glaring weakness on this basketball team."

It could get better next year when Alford's high-scoring son, Bryce, joins the team.

But this season is over and the Lobos (29-6) remain not only in search of their first trip to the Final Four, but their first trip to the second weekend of the tournament since 1974.

"They came out and punched us first," said Kirk, whose 22 points were New Mexico's only consistent offense. "They wanted it more than us. It hurts, but congrats to them."

The Mountain West, judged one of the top two leagues in college basketball all season, fell to 1-3 so far this week.

It was New Mexico's first loss to an Ivy League team in 15 games. The Lobos had never played Harvard before.

Wesley Saunders scored 18 points and Laurent Rivard made five 3-pointers for the Crimson (20-9), who held Tony Snell to nine points on 4-for-12 shooting after he dominated in the MWC tournament.

The Crimson also banged inside with Lobos big men Kirk and Cameron Bairstow. Mostly, they showed none of the jitters that marked their trip to the tournament last year, a 79-70 loss to Vanderbilt in the Crimson's first NCAA appearance since 1946.

Rivard went 6 of 7 from 3-point range in that one — played on New Mexico's home court in The Pit — and was clearly pumped for an encore against the Lobos themselves. He was 5 of 9 this time, with three of them coming in the first half, while Harvard was holding a small lead and, more importantly, answered every surge the Lobos could muster. Rivard finished with 17 points.

"I hit my first one, and you know, you hit the shot and then you keep shooting after that, and then I hit another one, so I knew it was going to be a good game after that," Rivard said.

Harvard coach Tommy Amaker outcoached Alford, his contemporary, exacting some revenge of sorts for the time Alford's Indiana team beat Amaker and Duke back in the 1987 regional semifinals.

"I've got all the respect in the world for Tommy. He does it the right way," Alford said. "His staff was very well prepared. They had a good game plan and they executed it well."