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Giant NCAA task for Harvard

Harvard's Kenyatta Smith took a shot during practice in Salt Lake City on Wednesday.

Rick Bowmer/AP

Harvard's Kenyatta Smith took a shot during practice in Salt Lake City on Wednesday.

SALT LAKE CITY — Harvard will not get the opportunity to size up New Mexico’s physical advantage until the Crimson step onto the court at EnergySolutions Arena for their second-round West Region matchup against third-seeded Lobos Thursday night.

The Crimson will go with a four-guard lineup whose biggest starter will be 6-foot-8-inch sophomore forward Kenyatta Smith, while New Mexico will counter with a gargantuan frontcourt led by redshirt sophomore Alex Kirk, a 7-foot, 250-pounder who averaged 11.9 points and a team-leading 7.9 rebounds this season.

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New Mexico’s size advantage certainly raised concerns for Harvard coach Tommy Amaker.

“They have great size up front, there is no question,’’ said Amaker, who said his team would emphasize staying away from silly fouls against the Lobos, a team that has induced its opponents to commit 673 fouls. “We have played against other teams that have had good size.

“We have tried to spread the floor, use our quickness, and being smaller, there are advantages that we have,’’ Amaker said. “We’re hopeful that it will lead us to an area where we can shoot the ball well and have to box out very well, keep them off the backboard — something we haven’t been very good at this season.’’

The Crimson were outrebounded this season by a slight margin, 851 to 823, averaging 29.4 a game to 30.4 for the opposition. But it was New Mexico’s ability to get to the foul line, where the Lobos converted 72.2 percent as a team (581 of 805), that gave Amaker pause.

“They get fouled an incredible amount of times, and I think that’s one of the bigger stats you look at,’’ Amaker said. “How many times they can get fouled and get to the foul line, which puts pressure on your defense.’’

Miller is missed

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Last year, Corbin Miller, a 6-2, 180-pound freshman guard from Sandy, Utah, who averaged 3.8 points, got to experience Harvard’s first NCAA berth since 1946. But Miller was unable to relish a homecoming trip with the team to Salt Lake City after sitting out this season to complete a Mormon mission.

“We certainly miss him,’’ said Amaker, who invited Miller’s family and friends to Thursday night’s game. “We’re looking forward to having him back. He’s been a terrific addition to our basketball program.

“He was an outstanding player for us last year. As fate would have it, we are here in his hometown, so to speak, to play an NCAA Tournament game and he’s not able to be here with us.’’

Alford gets extension

New Mexico basketball coach Steve Alford was awarded a 10-year contract extension Wednesday, but if it were up to his players, they would have offered him different terms. “I would have given him a lifetime contract if it was up to me,’’ said junior guard Kendall Williams. “I’ve had a lot of fun through six years,’’ said Alford. “It’s something that I think we have started to put our imprint on the program, and we’ve got things there in place to continue to be successful.’’ Alford will return all five starters from this year’s NCAA squad that won the Mountain West regular-season title and conference tournament for the second year in a row . . . Asked what he thought the keys would be for New Mexico, Alford said, “Anytime you get in postseason play, it’s about being who you are. You don’t change things now. We want to be who we are. If we are who we are and it’s not good enough, we shake the hands of Harvard and tell them congratulations and tell them good job. We just hope we don’t get beat being somebody we’re not.’’

Michael Vega can be reached at vega@globe.com.

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