Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — This year was supposed to be different. This was the season that the New Mexico Lobos were supposed to get to the Sweet 16 — if not further. Some national pundits were suggesting the Mountain West Conference champions might be Final Four material.
Instead, the Lobos were a disappointment in the NCAA tournament once again.
It was Harvard, not New Mexico, that advanced from the fourth of four NCAA games at EnergySolutions Arena on Thursday with a 68-62 win.
It was the biggest upset of the day — in any regional.
And it marked the first-ever NCAA tournament win for Harvard — in just the school's third-ever appearance in the Big Dance.
Harvard is supposed to beat New Mexico if it's a math competition or a battle of students' SAT scores. That's a given.
But on the basketball court?
Afterward, New Mexico coach Steve Alford admitted that his players may have been getting a little full of themselves with all the predictions by experts that the Lobos would go on a long NCAA tourney run.
"It's the first time this group has been patted on the back," Alford said. "People were predicting us to do this or that and I thought our focus was a little off. I thought Harvard did a lot of things to take advantage of that."
New Mexico played tough defense for the most part, but had a rough shooting night. The Lobos finished the game shooting 37.5 percent from the floor.
"We've dodged this bullet a lot this year," said Alford, whose team finished with a 29-6 mark. "We've had bad shooting nights and still been able to get wins."
But not Thursday. The smaller Crimson made 52.4 percent of its shots to earn the upset victory.
"I'm exceptionally proud of our guys," said Harvard coach Tommy Amaker. "They had to believe, and we talked about preparation; we talked about passion; and we talked about belief. We battled a really good basketball team in a tough environment."
Harvard was led by guard Wesley Saunders' 18 points. Laurent Rivard added 17 points — making 5 of 9 of his 3-point attempts. Center Kenyatta Smith scored 10 with seven rebounds before fouling out, while point guard Siyani Chambers had a strong floor game, dishing out a game-high seven assists.
"Nobody expected us to be here," said Smith. "Nobody expected us to win this game. So we just got out there and did everything that we could."
While the Harvard victory was shocking, it certainly wasn't a fluke. The Crimson never trailed in the first half and only fell behind — for a couple of brief moments — in the second half. Each time the Lobos took the lead, Harvard went on a mini run to regain the advantage.
"Last year we made it (to the NCAA tournament) for the first time since 1946," said Rivard. "We lost to Vanderbilt in a tough game, but this year we wanted to come back and get a win — for the first time in school history. I mean, it can't get bigger than that."
New Mexico's Kendall Williams, the MWC Player of the Year, went just 1 for 6 from the field and finished with eight points. If it wasn't for 7-footer Alex Kirk — who finished with a game-high 22 points — it may not have been as close as it was for the Lobos.
The Crimson, a No. 14 seed and the Ivy League champs, moves on to play Arizona of the Pac-12 on Saturday.
New Mexico, meanwhile, will head home and wonder what might have been.
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