SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Pressure is simply part of the package at Arizona.
How the Wildcats handle it when March rolls around makes the difference between the good seasons and the great ones.
They’re off to a fine start this year. Mark Lyons matched a career high with 27 points to lead the sixth-seeded Wildcats to a 74-51 victory over 14th-seeded Harvard on Saturday, a win that defined the not-so-fine line between an Ivy League school and a basketball school.
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“The history of Arizona speaks for itself,” said coach Sean Miller, the present caretaker of the program Lute Olson built. “This time of year, we not only represent ourselves, but all the great players and teams of the past.”
This will be Arizona’s 15th appearance in the Sweet 16. The Wildcats (27-7) are heading to Los Angeles for a West Regional matchup against Sunday’s winner between Ohio State and Iowa State.
Miller is enjoying some tournament success in this, his fourth season with the Wildcats, and appears to be steering a program back on track after some tumult and NCAA problems that followed Olson’s departure.
“Pressure is something we put on ourselves,” Miller said. “I can’t imagine putting any more pressure on than what we do already. We have high expectations as a team and as a program. That’s why you want to be at Arizona, because you have everything you need to be the most successful you can be.”
Arizona’s blanket defense forced Harvard (20-10) to miss its first 13 shots and 20 of its first 22 while falling behind 30-9. The Ivy League champs, who shot 52 percent in their upset win over New Mexico on Thursday, made only 27 percent in this one.
“We had some open opportunities early, and once we missed some, we kind of got our heads down and they took advantage of it,” coach Tommy Amaker said.
Laurent Rivard, the Canadian guard who made five 3-pointers in the upset Thursday, shot 1-for-6 this time. He missed two early, then shot two airballs in the second half and finished with three points.
“I thought we did a really good job of keeping quickness and a perimeter player on Rivard,” Miller said. “If you watched Harvard … against New Mexico, you see that when he has big nights from the 3, it enhances their offense.”
Arizona, a team that hasn’t lost to an opponent outside of the Pac-12 this season, had too much height, too much speed, too much talent to be slowed by this Harvard team.
“They pounced on us from the beginning,” Harvard’s Christian 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.”
Indeed, it was over early and a couple vignettes told the story.
Forward Solomon Hill (13 points, 10 rebounds) spotted up for a 3-pointer, drained it, then looped his fingers over his eyes — the 3-point goggles — right by the Harvard bench, in Amaker’s face. On Harvard’s next possession, Hill rebounded a missed shot, took the ball coast to coast and jammed with both hands, then bumped chests violently with teammate Kevin Parrom.
Moments later, Lyons made a backdoor cut and took an alley-oop pass from Jordin Mayes for an easy layup.
Bad enough that happens to a defense once in a game. But on the next possession, Lyons and Mayes combined for an absolute carbon-copy of the same play.
“My teammates got me the ball in the right position and I was able to make shots today,” said Lyons, a senior who came to Arizona from Xavier along with his coach.
Impressive as the back-to-back oops were, Harvard point guard Siyani Chambers will remember another play better.
He was trying to make a jump pass, when Parrom left his feet, as well, to block it. His elbow bashed Chambers’ lip and he grimaced in pain. Helped off the floor with the tooth in hand, he was wincing on the bench, where TV cameras caught a clear shot of his newly jagged right incisor.
“That showed how physical the game was,” Rivard said. “It wasn’t even close to the rim. Guys were scratching and clawing. But it was an accident.”
Kenyatta Smith, Harvard’s tallest player at 6-foot-8, led the Crimson with 10 points. Also shut down was Wesley Saunders. Saunders led Harvard with 18 points against New Mexico, but went 1-for-11 for eight point against Arizona.
“They’re 7-feet, 6-9, 6-8,” Amaker said. “They’re in front of the rim, around the rim. They make it very difficult to finish.”
Arizona, meanwhile, was every bit as good on offense as it was on defense. The Wildcats made 55 percent of their shots, led by Lyons’ 12-for-17 night.