Brad Rock: Monsters had their way with NCAA Tourney darlings

Published: Saturday, March 23 2013 9:45 p.m. MDT

Harvard's Head Coach Tommy Amaker talks with Siyani Chambers as Arizona and Harvard play Saturday, March 23, 2013 in the third round of the NCAA tournament in Energy Solutions arena.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY —

Want to know what's the really bad news for Harvard?

There's not even the National Academic Quiz Bowl championship to fall back on.

Saturday at EnergySolutions Arena, the Arizona Wildcats put an end to Harvard's hopes of becoming a basketball big shot, routing the Crimson 74-51 in the NCAA tournament. So much for becoming a world leader in hoops. Everyone knows Harvard's the place for presidents and such. But after upsetting New Mexico in Thursday's opener, the plan was to become a wonderful amalgam of brains and basketball beauty.

Realistically, it was too much to ask an Ivy League school to beat two nationally ranked teams in the same week. So the Wildcats are moving on to their 15th Sweet 16. Although Harvard played hard, it doesn't take a scholar to know that making one in four shots won't beat anyone.

"I think in order for us to make this a magical moment for our team and program … you've got to get off to a good start against a team like that, and we had our chances," said Crimson coach Tommy Amaker.

There were indeed some early chances to make shots. Chances to win? Not really. Arizona used its size, athleticism and added fine outside shooting to score every time it needed.

"Obviously we're thrilled to be back into the Sweet 16," Arizona coach Sean Miller said. "The history of Arizona speaks for itself."

Oh yes, the history. Arizona has been to the Final Four four times. The 'Cats won the national championship in 1997. Last year's recruiting class ranked second in the nation. Arizona was in the top dozen teams in this year's preseason polls. It climbed as high as No. 3 during the regular season.

The truly scary part: The Wildcats think they're just getting going.

But after 14 straight wins to start the season, and a No. 3 ranking, they started to slip. A January loss at Oregon knocked them off perfection. Even two games against Utah were in doubt going into the final minutes. They dropped three of their final five games leading up to the NCAA tournament.

But suddenly Arizona became its old self, routing Belmont in the NCAA opener, followed by Harvard.

This is the Arizona team fans envisioned.

There were too many fine individual plays to count, mainly by Wildcat guard Mark Lyons, who led all scorers with 27 points. But no play said it better than when Harvard's Siyani Chambers caught an elbow from Arizona's Kevin Parrom and "before I knew it my tooth was out."

Just what the Crimson needed — trailing by 20 and it gets popped in the kisser.

Fortunately, there's a Harvard School of Dental Medicine.

Fine academics aside, the game on Saturday was hard to watch. The Harvard band, smartly dressed in crimson blazers, could only look on in preppy horror. Isn't that what happened in high school — the big athletes bullying the robotics club?

A 1-for-13 shooting start didn't help.

The game was over before you could say Barack Obama.

That Arizona would be back in the Sweet 16 seemed only right. Admittedly it struggled this year. But this is a program that comes back to the tournament like swallows to Capistrano. Arizona has missed the NCAA Tournament just once since 1986 (2010).

Now the 'Cats are where they should be and, truthfully so is Harvard.

It's what happens when they match a team that has been to the NCAA tournament 29 times against one that, until last year, hadn't been to the tourney in 64 years. Arizona was bigger, faster and owned the paint. Harvard shot 28 percent.

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