SALT LAKE CITY — This time, there was no history to be made.
The Harvard men’s basketball team, which recorded the first NCAA Tournament victory in program history Thursday by upsetting third-seeded New Mexico, fell woefully short of a repeat performance Saturday in a 74-51 loss to sixth-seeded Arizona in the third round of the West Regional before an EnergySolutions Arena crowd of 16,050.
The 14th-seeded Crimson (20-10) were reduced to a March Madness footnote after running into a Pac-12 Conference opponent that was bigger, stronger, and more athletic than the Mountain West Conference champion Harvard sent home in the second round.
“Disappointing for us that we didn’t play better,’’ said coach Tommy Amaker, whose team earned its second consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament (and third in school history) after capturing the Ivy League title in the final weekend of the regular season. “I think we’ve showed that we have been a better team than we displayed this afternoon. But nonetheless, we have had a wonderful season, very proud of our team and our program.’’
Harvard shot lights out in its 68-62 victory over the Lobos — 52 percent from the field, 44 percent from 3-point range, and 80 percent from the foul line. But the Crimson were unable to match those numbers against Arizona, which never looked back after Harvard missed its first 13 shots.
With junior 3-point specialist Laurent Rivard held in check (3 points) by Arizona’s athletic backcourt of Nick Johnson and Jordin Mayes, the Crimson struggled to generate much of an offensive threat. Harvard was outrebounded (39-33) and outscored in the paint (30-20) by the Wildcats’ NBA-sized frontcourt led by 7-foot, 255-pound freshman Kaleb Tarczewski, a former St. Mark’s standout from Claremont, N.H., who had 7 points and 8 rebounds.
Arizona (27-7) was paced by senior guard Mark Lyons, who tied his career high with 27 points on 12-for-17 shooting (3 of 6 from the 3-point arc).
“Looking at our game plan today, I thought we did a really good job of keeping quickness and a perimeter player on Rivard,’’ said Arizona coach Sean Miller. “If you watched Harvard against Cal [Dec. 29] or against New Mexico, you see when he has big nights from the three, it enhances their offense.’’
With Rivard and senior guard Christian Webster combining to shoot 1 for 8 (0 for 5 from 3-point range) in the first half, the nightmarish start wound up being Harvard’s worst-case scenario.
“Yeah, it was,’’ said Amaker, whose team trailed at halftime, 40-22, after hitting just 7 of 28 shots.
Sophomore forward Kenyatta Smith was the lone Harvard player to score in double figures with 10 points. The Crimson finished with 28 percent shooting (16 of 58).
“I think in order for us to make this a magical moment for our team and program, which we’ve 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,’’ said Amaker.
Problem was, unlike in the victory over the Lobos, the Crimson couldn’t take advantage and wound up getting buried. Arizona streaked to a 17-2 lead before freshman guard Siyani Chambers hit Harvard’s first field goal, a 3-pointer with 12:16 remaining in the half.
“We had some open opportunities early,’’ Amaker said. “And once we missed some we kind of got our heads down and they took advantage of it.’’
Harvard led for all but 1 minute 34 seconds against New Mexico. The Crimson never even sniffed the lead against Arizona, which twice led by as many as 22 points in the first half.
“They pounced on us from the beginning,’’ Webster said. “I think it took us by surprise how hard they played, how physical they were — their length and size and speed. From there it was just an uphill battle.’’
Steve Moundou-Missi came off the bench to score 9 first-half points for Harvard, including the last 7 before intermission.
“As the sixth man on this team, I feel like my job is to bring energy to the team,’’ Moundou-Missi said. “I tried my best in the first half, and obviously every shot didn’t go in. But, I mean, that’s the game of basketball. You’re not always going to get what you want, but we did our best.’’
It quickly became evident Harvard’s best would not be enough to keep Arizona from making its 15th trip to the Sweet 16.
“This year showed us that we have been able to play with teams like this all year-round,’’ said Chambers (6 points), who left the building with a chipped front tooth, sustained in a collision with Kevin Parrom’s right elbow early in the second half. “I feel like we belong in this tournament and we can play with these teams.
“I think moving forward, what we can learn from this game is the next level we have to take it to in order to win this type of game.’’Michael Vega can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.