SALT LAKE CITY — Give those Harvard kids an A-plus in another subject: Bracketbusting 101.
Wesley Saunders scored 18 points and Laurent Rivard made five 3-pointers to help the 14th-seeded Crimson pull the biggest upset in Thursday’s flurry of NCAA tournament games, a 68-62 win over No. 3 New Mexico.
The Ivy League advanced for the first time since a very good Cornell team made the regional semifinals in 2010. The Mountain West Conference, judged one of the top two leagues in college basketball all season, fell to 1-3 so far this week.
While it may have been upset — Harvard’s first-ever win in three measly trips to the tournament — it didn’t look anything like a fluke.
The Crimson (20-9) put the clamps down on New Mexico’s Tony Snell, holding him to nine points on 4-for-12 shooting after he dominated in the MWC tournament. They banged inside with Lobos big men Cameron Bairstow and Alex Kirk, whose 22 points provided New Mexico’s only consistent offense.
Mostly, they showed none of the jitters that marked their trip to the tournament last year — a 79-70 loss to Vanderbilt in Harvard’s first NCAA appearance since 1946.
“YYYYYEEEEESSSSSSSSS!!! HARVARD winssss!!! hahahahhah i told you” tweeted Jeremy Lin, Harvard’s most famous basketball alumnus.
Rivard went 6 of 7 from 3 in that one — played on New Mexico’s home court in The Pit — and was clearly pumped for an encore. He was 5 of 9 this time, with three of them coming in the first half, while Harvard was holding a small lead and, more importantly, answering every surge the Lobos (29-6) threw at them. Rivard finished with 17 points.
Christian Webster was more of a role player last year, but jumped to the fore in 2013; he finished with 11 points and was gesturing after each of his three made 3s, even pointing to his forehead after making one from the corner in the first half.
Yep, these smart kids really can play.
Tommy Amaker outcoached his contemporary, Steve Alford, exacting revenge of sorts from when Alford’s Indiana team beat Amaker and Duke back in the 1987 regional semifinals.
Based on their regular-season and conference tournament wins, the Lobos were a popular pick to head to the Final Four this season. The school even gave Alford a new, 10-year contract Wednesday that called for a $125,000 bonus for a Final Four trip.
They’ll save the money but feel the pain.
And Harvard — yes, that school we’ve all heard of, but not usually this time of year — is moving on.