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Friday, March 22, 2013
Harvard pulls NCAA tournament shocker vs. New Mexico
The Harvard coach scanned the crowded court amid the chaos of his team's NCAA Tournament upset win against New Mexico, and found his freshman point guard Siyani Chambers, and gave him a big squeeze.
It was the perfect picture of March happiness.
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Amaker's No. 14-seeded Harvard team pulled off the first stunner of the tournament with its 68-62 win against No. 3 New Mexico in a game the Crimson led nearly start to finish.
Harvard, the Ivy League champions, was smaller, sure, but it shot better, hustled more and very much earned its first NCAA tournament win in school history. It is no fluke that it is Harvard, and not New Mexico, is advancing to play No. 6 Arizona on Saturday.
"What a sensational, gutsy effort by our team," Amaker said.
Amaker's players came up with more adjectives to describe the locker room in the aftermath of their historic win.
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"Pandemonium," said senior Christian Webster.
"Jubilation," said sophomore guard Wesley Saunders.
What about you, Laurent Rivard?
"I don't know any other words for that," Rivard said, laughing.
Fine, Rivard, you get a free pass on the vocabulary quiz this time after a making five baskets, all of them three-pointers in Thursday's upset win, a win that still didn't seem real.
And truly, plenty has been surreal about this Harvard run. The Crimson lost two captains before the season began when they dropped out of school amid a massive academic scandal and lost back-to-back games to Princeton and Pennsylvania on the first two days of March. This was a team led by a freshman point guard, playing in only its second NCAA Tournament since 1946.
Harvard lost to Vanderbilt in the second round of the tournament last year.
This didn't seem like a favorable matchup. New Mexico seemed to feel slighted after receiving a No. 3 seed, and brought a brutish lineup and a rabid fan base to Salt Lake City, all intent on advancing to at least the Sweet 16.
Harvard, it seemed, would be little more than an opening-game nuisance for a team with three players who stood at least 6-foot-8.
But Harvard, much like No. 16 Southern University did here hours before, was undaunted. The Crimson's players drove right at the Lobos' big men, regardless of the whistles they drew. Harvard's 6-foot-8 center Kenyatta Smith picked up his fourth foul early in the second half, leaving Harvard with an even-smaller four-guard lineup.
But size didn't matter from the three-point line, and it seemed Harvard couldn't miss.
Harvard, which hit five three-pointers in the first half, never trailed in those first 20 minutes, and even as the Lobos quickly tied the game early in the second half, the Crimson managed to quell every rally. Instead, Harvard appeared to grow increasingly more confident with each passing minute.
"We didn't wilt or cave in," Amaker said. "The composure that our kids displayed, I'm very, very proud of that."
Before Amaker left the court, he shook hands with Steve Alford, New Mexico's head coach. The two were collegiate basketball contemporaries, Amaker at Duke and Alford at Indiana, and longtime coaching peers.
Thursday night was Amaker's greatest as a coach, at least that's what he told his players, but for Alford, it was a bitter, frustrating loss. The Lobos haven't advanced beyond the tournament's opening weekend since 1974, and have now suffered an early loss as a No. 3 seed for the second time in four years.
The Lobos made only 37.5 percent of their shots against Harvard and missed seven free throws, and none of their guards managed to score in double figures.
"We've dodged this bullet a lot this year by having bad shooting nights and still able to get wins," Alford said. "We weren't able to dodge that bullet tonight."
The Lobos and Alford will return now to Albuquerque, and Alford's new 10-year contract begins next month. All five New Mexico starters are expected to return, but Alford said the group would need to make significant offensive improvements in the offseason.
Amaker and Harvard, meanwhile, are starting to study Arizona after becoming just the second Ivy League school to win an NCAA Tournament game since 2000. Cornell advanced to the Sweet 16 in 2010.
"It's unbelievable," Webster said. "We were talking in the back, we're still in disbelief. We wanted to put everything in it, and believed in it, but this is as good as it gets right."
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