Harvard University was overwhelmed by a bigger and faster University of Arizona 74-51, two days after the Ivy League-champion Crimson scored their first victory in the men’s college national basketball tournament.
“They pounced on us from the beginning,” said Harvard’s Christian Webster, who had eight points in yesterday’s game. “I think it took us by surprise how hard they played, how physical they were, and like Siyani (Chambers) said, their length and size and speed. From there it was just an uphill battle.”
Harvard, the 14th seed in the West region, fell behind 40-22 at halftime and was outscored 34-29 in the second half of the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament Round of 32 game in Salt Lake City.
Chambers, the rookie of the year in the Ivy League conference after averaging 12.9 points and an Ivy-best 5.8 assists, was held to six points.
“Film didn’t give them as much credit as they deserved,” Chambers said. “They were tremendous on defense, their rotations, their size. Their length was a problem tonight, but give all the credit to them; they played a great game and they played great defense.”
Mark Lyons scored 27 points for the Wildcats and Solomon Hill added 13 points and 10 rebounds. Arizona was successful on 27-of-49 field goal attempts, shooting 55 percent, compared with 16 of 58, or 28 percent, for Harvard.
Kenyatta Smith had 10 points and Steve Moundou-Missi contributed nine for the Crimson.
“This season has obviously been great for us,” Moundou-Missi said. “We didn’t end the way we wanted to end, but it’s all about the journey and not the destination.”
The Crimson finished with a 20-10 record, overcoming the loss of two co-captains in an academic scandal to take the school’s second outright Ivy League basketball title, and winning for the first time in an NCAA tournament, 68-62 against New Mexico on March 21.
Harvard’s defeat of New Mexico, the No. 3 seed in the 16-team West region, marked just the second time in seven years that a 14th seed won its first game.
This was the third NCAA tournament appearance for Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Harvard, which has produced twice as many U.S. presidents (eight) as National Basketball Association players (four).
Among the doubters of this year’s team was President Barack Obama, who attended Harvard Law School and picked New Mexico to advance past the Crimson in the bracket he filled out before the tournament.
Harvard failed in its bid to become the second Ivy League team since 2000 to advance to the Round of 16. Cornell University upset Temple and Wisconsin to reach that phase in 2010. Ivy League schools are now 41-77 in NCAA tournament history, and 3-14 since 2000.
The Crimson finished the regular season 19-9. Last year the team played its first NCAA tournament game since 1946, falling to Vanderbilt in the first round.
They returned this year after losing senior co-captains Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry, who withdrew from the school in September amid accusations of similarities on the final exams of about 125 students. More than half the students implicated were told to withdraw for as long as a year, Harvard said in February.
The absence of Casey, the team’s leading scorer in 2011-12, and Curry, its starting point guard, cleared the way for the emergence of Chambers and Wesley Saunders. Saunders, who led the Ivy League in scoring at 16.5 points a game, was held to eight points yesterday.
Harvard, which counts Jeremy Lin of the NBA’s Houston Rockets among its basketball alumni, was 0-3 in two NCAA tournament appearances prior to this year, losing twice in 1946, when there were consolation games.
After yesterday’s loss, Lin said he was proud of his college team.
“Surpassed all expectations and a program on the rise...dont worry, they’ll be back next year!!” he said on his Twitter site.
The program’s recent revival has come under coach Tommy Amaker, a point guard for Duke University in the 1980s who went on to help the Blue Devils win the NCAA title in 1991 and 1992 as an assistant coach. Harvard was, until the 2010-11 season, the only school in the eight-team Ivy League to never win or share the conference title.
“I think in order for us to make this a magical moment for our team and program, which we have been able to do at other points in this season, you’ve probably got to get off to a good start against a team like that and we had our chances,” Amaker told reporters. “We had some open opportunities early, and once we missed some we kind of got our heads down and they took advantage of it.”
Arizona, which finished the season ranked No. 21 in the Associated Press poll, next plays the winner of tomorrow’s matchup between Ohio State and Iowa State in the Round of 16.