Back For More: Men's Basketball Looks To Knock Off Arizona in Tournament's Third Round
SALT LAKE CITY—There is not much time to celebrate in the NCAA Tournament.
The Harvard men’s basketball team learned that Friday, when following the jubilation of Thursday night’s stunning victory over New Mexico, the Crimson had to quickly refocus and get set to play No. 6 seed Arizona Saturday at 6:10 ET on TNT.
“The celebration ended this morning,” co-captain Christian Webster said Friday.
The Pac-12’s Wildcats, ranked No. 21 in the most recent Associated Press top 25 poll, reached the third round by dominating Belmont, 81-64. Now they will face a confident Crimson squad whose win over the Lobos made it the talk of the college basketball world Thursday night.
“We know we’re in for a fight,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “When you win a game like that it doesn’t just all of a sudden leave you. Many times it carries through for the rest of the weekend.”
It has been an up-and-down season for the Wildcats, which won their first 14 games—including victories over Florida, Miami, and San Diego State—to reach as high as No. 3 in the national rankings. But Arizona underachieved in conference play, closing the regular season with a 5-5 record and then losing to UCLA for the third time this year in the Pac-12 semifinals.
Despite the Wildcats' late season inconsistency, Harvard coach Tommy Amaker made clear that winning a second tournament game will be no easy task.
“[This will be a] huge challenge,” Amaker said. “Arizona is talented and big and athletic across the board.”
Like the Lobos, the Wildcats feature a balanced offensive attack. Senior Mark Lyons—playing his first year with Arizona after transferring from Xavier—led the team in scoring with 15 points per game and poured in a team-high 23 points against the Bruins. The point guard will pose a second consecutive challenging matchup for Crimson freshman Siyani Chambers, who limited New Mexico star Kendall Williams to just eight points on one for six shooting.
Senior Solomon Hill, who like Lyons was named First Team All Pac-12, contributed 13.3 points and 5.3 rebounds per contest, while sophomore guard Nick Johnson added 11.7 points per game for the Wildcats.
Arizona, like Harvard, is young inside. Seven-foot freshman Kaleb Tarczewski—a consensus top-ten recruit in the country coming into the season—led Arizona with 6.1 rebounds per game, while classmates Brandon Ashley and Grant Jerrett have contributed valuable minutes off the bench.
“Obviously [the Crimson is] a great team,” Tarczewski said. “It’s going to be a challenge for us. We’re prepared for that.”
In order to defend the Wildcats’ frontline, Harvard’s rotation of sophomore big men—Kenyatta Smith, Steve Moundou-Missi, and Jonah Travis—must stay out of foul trouble. The trio failed to do that against the Lobos, as the former two players fouled out and Travis collected four fouls. When Smith was not on the court, New Mexico seven-footer Alex Kirk was able to use his size to overpower Harvard with relative ease.
“We’re young up front,” Amaker said. “We don’t need [our big men] to do a lot. We just need them to be solid in a few areas.”
Arizona is also significantly better at defending the three than New Mexico, meaning the Crimson sharpshooting duo of co-captains Laurent Rivard and Christian Webster—who were a combined eight for 14 from deep Thursday—could have a tougher time getting good looks.