Ron Cook: Harvard bows out against talented Arizona


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SALT LAKE CITY -- A team knows it's a long shot in the NCAA tournament when one of its own picks against it. When President Barack Obama, a Harvard man, filled out his bracket last week, he picked No. 3 seed New Mexico to beat the No. 14 Crimson Thursday night in a second-round game. Harvard won, getting its first postseason win of any kind and becoming the early feel-good story of the 2013 tournament.

The joy didn't last long.

First, 15th-seeded Florida Gulf Coast trumped Harvard's win by taking out No. 2 Georgetown Friday night in Philadelphia.

Then, Arizona, behind 27 points from guard Mark Lyons, ended Harvard's season Saturday night with a 74-51 win in a third-round game at EnergySolutions Arena.

Arizona, coached by former Pitt point guard Sean Miller, will play Ohio State or Iowa State Thursday night in the Round of 16 at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

"They're a sensational basketball team," Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said of Arizona. "They have all of the pieces when you think about what's necessary to possibly have a championship-level team. They have an NBA-size front line. Their guards played exceptionally well. They shot the ball well ...

"It's disappointing for us that we didn't play better. I think we've shown that we have been a better team than we displayed this afternoon."

The game wasn't competitive. Harvard missed its first 13 shots and fell behind, 17-2, prompting Amaker to say, "I felt that doomed us from the start."

Harvard never recovered. It shot 27.6 percent for the game after shooting 52.4 percent in its 68-62 win against New Mexico. Its three top scorers -- Wesley Saunders, Siyani Chambers and Laurent Rivard -- combined to make just 4 of 25 shots.

"They were tremendous on defense, their rotations, their size," Chambers said. "Their length was a problem tonight."

"They pounced on us from the beginning," Harvard guard Christian Webster said. "I think it took us by surprise how hard they played."

Harvard had no answer for Lyons, just as Belmont had no answer for him in an 81-64 second-round loss Thursday night to Arizona. Lyons made 12 of 17 shots and scored 27 points after scoring 23 against Belmont.

"Mark is filled with confidence," Miller said. "When he gets his confidence going, it's contagious on our entire team. It shows you how talented he is and it also shows you that the bigger the game can really bring out the best in him."

Arizona is headed to its second Round of 16 in Miller's four seasons as coach. It went to the West Region final in 2011 before losing to Connecticut, the eventual national champion.

Before taking the Arizona job, Miller led Xavier to four NCAA tournaments in five years, making it to the Round of Eight in 2008 before losing to UCLA and the Round of 16 in 2009 before losing to Pitt.

"Maybe it keeps the pressure off me," Miller said, grinning.

Arizona, which was No. 3 in The Associated Press poll in early January after starting the season 14-0, went 5-5 in its 10 games before the tournament. Miller knew his team was better.

"We came into this tournament cornered, hungry and ready to do something," he said. "We have high expectations as a team and as a program."

Amaker and Harvard already are looking to next season. Their year began with the loss of their two best players -- guard Brandyn Curry and Kyle Casey -- who were implicated in a campus-wide cheating scandal. It ended with the painful loss to Arizona. But in between, Harvard won 20 games and the Ivy League title and went to its second consecutive NCAA tournament after a 66-year absence.

"I feel like we belong in this tournament and we can play with these teams," Chambers said.

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First Published March 24, 2013 4:00 AM


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