Harvard players celebrate on the bench after beating New Mexico during a second round game in the NCAA college basketball tournament in Salt Lake City Thursday, March 21, 2013. Harvard beat New Mexico 68-62. (AP Photo/George Frey)
Updated: March 22, 2013 10:23AM
SALT LAKE CITY — Some people may have heard of the school that’s suddenly generating a bit of March Madness buzz.
Yep, Harvard —the school known for producing U.S. presidents, Supreme Court justices and Nobel Prize winners earned its first NCAA tournament victory Thursday night with a 68-62 upset of No. 3 seed New Mexico.
Wesley Saunders scored 18 points and Laurent Rivard made five 3-pointers to give 14th-seeded Harvard (20-9) its first tournament victory in only three measly trips.
“It’s unbelievable,” guard Christian Webster said. “We’re still in disbelief. This is as good as it gets for us right now.”
He had no doubt the scene at Harvard Square was as crazy as the one inside the Crimson locker room, where noise from Harvard’s postgame celebration carried down through the concourse.
The Crimson put the clamps on New Mexico’s Tony Snell, holding him to nine points on 4-of-12 shooting after he dominated in the Mountain West Conference 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 the Crimson’s first NCAA appearance since 1946.
Rivard went 6 of 7 from 3-point range in that one — played on New Mexico’s home court in The Pit — and was clearly pumped for an encore against the Lobos themselves. He was 5 of 9 this time, with three coming in the first half, while Harvard was holding a small lead and, more importantly, answering every surge the Lobos (29-6) could muster. Rivard finished with 17 points.
Next up for Harvard: a meeting with sixth-seeded Arizona.
In the other part of the West Region bracket, top-seeded Gonzaga got a scare from Southern before pulling out a 64-58 victory. The Zags will play No. 9 Wichita State, 73-55 winners over Pitt.
Gonzaga barely escaped to keep No. 1 seeds undefeated against No. 16s since the NCAA tournament field expanded to 64 teams in 1985.
That doesn’t mean it was easy for the Zags, who ran into a No. 16 seed that wasn’t playing like one.
Kelly Olynyk scored 17 of his 21 points in the second half to help the Zags (32-2) advance. Gonzaga iced the game with a pair of 3-pointers — one by Gary Bell Jr., the next by Kevin Pangos — that gave the Bulldogs their small cushion after Southern tied things at 56 with 3:45 left.
Gonzaga coach Mark Few was almost ready to jump on the Southern bandwagon.
“Everyone was so moved by their effort, their resilience, their confidence,” Few said. “If I wasn’t coaching on the other sideline, they’d be a tough team not to root for.”
Derick Beltran made life particularly difficult on the West Coast Conference champions. He scored 21 points and blocked eight shots, while Southern made 10 3-pointers on the night.
Gonzaga’s next opponent slowly pulled away from Pitt, ending the Panthers’ season at 24-9.
Wichita State’s Tekele Cotton did such a good job shutting down Pitt’s leading scorer, Tray Woodall, that Woodall was in tears after the game. He managed only two points while the Shockers guard came up with five steals and a key 3-point basket.
At the news conference after the game, Woodall broke down and had to be comforted by teammate Dante Taylor, who wrapped an arm around his teammate’s shoulder.
“It’s a bitter taste in my mouth to end my career with one of the worst games I’ve ever played,” said Woodall, who came into the game averaging 11.8 points. “I’m sorry. I let my team down.”
Cotton, a 6-2 sophomore, hit his 3-pointer to start as 12-4 run and added a fast-break dunk to put the Shockers ahead 45-35 with 10:31 remaining. Woodall finished just 1 of 12 from the field, and 0 of 5 from 3-point range.
The game was a physical one, with players receiving an occasional elbow in the mouth or to the head.
Malcolm Armstead led Wichita State (27-8) with 22 points. Cleanthony Early added 21 and Carl Hall had 11. Freshman Steven Adams led Pitt with 13 points and 11 rebounds.
Harvard’s next opponent, Arizona, beat 11th-seeded Belmont 81-64.
Arizona (26-7) had been knocked out of the Pac-12 Conference tournament by one Bruins team — UCLA — and these Bruins, from Nashville, Tenn., were a trendy pick to upset Sean Miller’s sixth-seeded Wildcats in the NCAAs.
Instead, the Wildcats made a believer out of Belmont coach Rick Byrd. Mark Lyons scored 23 points and Arizona used its size to dominate from start to finish.
“I was more impressed with the team I saw tonight than I was scouting them,” Byrd acknowledged afterward. “I thought they were more engaged and focused and I think if they play that way, they can beat a lot of people.”
The thought was almost enough to wipe the smile from Crimson coach Tommy Amaker after Harvard’s big win.
“Off the top of my head, I can’t imagine any team being more talented than they are,” Amaker said of Arizona. “I’m not sure they have any weaknesses based on size, the bodies they can play up front, the guards, and their quickness, making plays off the dribble.”
The Wildcats held a 44-18 edge on the boards, outscored Belmont 36-18 in the paint, blocked five shots and outshot the Bruins from 3-point range. Arizona made nine of 17 3-pointers and shot 57 percent overall.
Solomon Hill ended up making as many 3s as Ian Clark, who entered the game shooting better than 46 percent for Belmont but was 3 of 8 from beyond the arc.