SALT LAKE CITY — Most folks figured that the University of Arizona men's basketball team would probably still be playing in the NCAA tournament Saturday.
However, most folks also figured that the Pac-12 Wildcats would almost assuredly be facing Mountain West Conference champion New Mexico in the next round — and not Harvard, those basketball-playing brainiacs from the Ivy League who came into the 2013 edition of March Madness without ever before savoring the sweet taste of NCAA tourney success.
Most folks, as it turns out, would be wrong.
With Thursday night's thrilling 68-62 upset victory over the third-seeded and heavily favored Lobos, the 13th-seeded Crimson finds itself still on the Big Dance floor for today's round of 32, where it'll face a 4:10 p.m. West Regional matchup against Arizona at EnergySolutions Arena.
And while most folks will again figure that Arizona's impressive size and athleticism might be too much for Harvard to handle, the sixth-seeded Wildcats (26-7) know they'll have their hands full with a Crimson ballclub that's riding a tidal wave of momentum.
"They're a good basketball team," cautioned Arizona senior forward Solomon Hill. "They executed their game plan against New Mexico, and at times it wasn't even close. New Mexico tried to make their run, and Harvard kept making runs themselves.
"So we have to prepare for them just like any other team. They're a program on the rise and they're making steps in the right direction. You have to note that two of their best players are not playing this year (due to an academic scandal that rocked the school last fall). If those two players were here, they would probably be a higher seed and playing somewhere else.
"We have to take them just like anybody else — take them seriously," Hill said. "They're a basketball team that can beat anybody, and they showed that last night."
Some observers figure that's the kind of wary thinking New Mexico should have had in order to avoid getting bitten on the backside in Thursday night's tourney opener.
The Lobos looked like one of those teams that might be capable of making a deep postseason run, but the Crimson (20-9) limited the Lobos to just 38 percent shooting, including 3 of 14 (21.4 percent) from 3-point range, to abruptly end New Mexico's fine season in shocking fashion.
It was a performance that pushed Harvard to the forefront of this year's tourney focus, instantly turning the Crimson into a great Cinderella story and a national media darling entering this weekend's round of games.
But Harvard's win wasn't a fluke. Earlier this season, the Crimson knocked off California, another Pac-12 team that won its own NCAA tourney opener Thursday, on the road. And it nearly did the same thing against St. Mary's, another NCAA team, where the Crimson lost by a single point.
"You don't want to take them lightly," said Hill, whose Arizona team avoided the upset bug that befell New Mexico by blasting underdog Belmont 81-64 in its own tourney opener Thursday. "If you look at what happened (Thursday) night, you're probably thinking, most teams are probably thinking, 'Oh, it's Harvard. We can get this team and we will worry about the next game.'
"You can't do that with any game now because everybody is going to show up to play. Guys are going to step up and make their biggest plays now. So you get those teams that people underestimate and it's too late to fight back and put forth the effort. You have to start that from start to finish."Comment on this story
GAME NOTES: The Wildcats will again benefit from a noticeable size advantage, with 7-foot freshman center Kaleb Tarczewski, 6-10 freshman forward Grant Jerrett, 6-8 freshman forward Brandon Ashley and 6-6 senior forward Kevin Parrom the main contributors in a whopping 44-18 rebounding margin in Thursday's win over Belmont. ... Harvard's Wesley Saunders, Laurent Rivard, Christian Webster and Kenyatta Smith combined for 56 points on 18-of-30 shooting from the field in Thursday's win, when the Crimson shot over 52 percent as a team. Rivard and Webster were a combined 8 of 14 from 3-point range.