SALT LAKE CITY — Mark Lyons, the 6-1 combo guard Arizona rented from Xavier University this season, had already been a part of three teams that had reached the Sweet 16.
Now it's up to four.
Lyons led the Wildcats to a 74-51 victory over Harvard at EnergySolutions Arena on Saturday with 27 points. With the win, Arizona advances to the NCAA West Regional semifinals to be held next week in Los Angeles.
"My teammates got me the ball in the right position and I was able to make shots," Lyons explained.
Lyons made big baskets throughout the game, connecting on 12 of his 17 attempts — including 3 of 6 from beyond the 3-point arc. While the Wildcats seemed to be in control from the start, it was Lyons who put an end to the only real run the Crimson made.
Harvard cut a 18-point halftime lead to 44-30 early in the second half. But Lyons quickly scored on a driving layup and then nailed a 3-point jumper to give the Wildcats a 49-30 lead with 16 minutes left in the game. Harvard never really threatened again.
"Mark is filled with confidence and when he gets his confidence going it's contagious on our entire team, " said Arizona coach Sean Miller.
Lyons was at Xavier for four years — including 2008-09 as a redshirt when he didn't play in games, but practiced with the team and worked to get his academics in order. Xavier's coach then was Miller, who took the Musketeers to the Sweet 16 before accepting the Arizona job.
In three years of playing for Xavier, Lyons helped the Musketeers get to two additional Sweet 16s. With one year of basketball eligibility remaining after graduating from Xavier last spring, Lyons took advantage of the NCAA rule that says that players who already have degrees can transfer to other Division I schools without sitting out a year. It's the same rule Utah used to get the services of Jared Dubois from Loyola Marymount for one season.
Lyons, a Schenectady, N.Y. native, chose to go to Arizona for his college swan song to be coached by the man who originally recruited him to Xavier. And it's worked out beautifully — for Lyons and Miller.
"It's a great feeling," said Lyons. "I'm playing for my original (college) coach who recruited me (to Xavier), playing with a bunch of guys who believe in me and have faith in me. We've been coming together as a team. It's great to be back in the Sweet 16."
Miller acknowledges that Lyons isn't a pure point guard — despite his point guard stature. But he loves what his senior leader has given him this season.
"I wouldn't trade him," Miller said. "When the chips are down — end of games, big games — he's ready. ... We're feeding off his positive energy and his confidence right now."
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