SALT LAKE CITY — Mark Lyons sat by his locker in EnergySolutions Arena, a few droplets of blood spattered on his white shorts.
Grant Jerrett stood a few feet away, icing his bruised right elbow that kept him sidelined for all but 36 seconds of Saturday’s NCAA Tournament matchup with the 14th-seed Harvard Crimson.
The Arizona Wildcats appeared bruised and battered, but they had just put a definitive end to Harvard’s Cinderella story in a 74-51 win. With it, the sixth-seed Wildcats advanced to the Sweet 16 for the third time in six years, and second time with head coach Sean Miller at the helm.
“I’m excited to be in the Sweet 16, I really am,” said Miller, who coached in two Sweet 16s at Xavier as well. “Every one of them are different.”
As for Lyons, it was unclear where the blood came from, but he was fine.
At one point in the second half against Harvard, Lyons was hit in his midsection and signaled for a sub. He played two more minutes and hit a 3-pointer. That was three of 27 points on the night for him, a career-high.
“He’s just on right now,” said forward Kevin Parrom. “He’s taking his shots, and they’re going in.”
In two NCAA tournament games, Lyons has scored 50 points for the Wildcats and with the win, Lyons will become the first player to ever play in two straight Sweet 16s at two different schools. He made it last year at Xavier, and two years before that for the Musketeers too.
“It feels good,” Lyons said. “I’ve been here a couple of times, and I’m trying to get to the next level.”
Lyons connected on 12-of-17 shots, and opened the second half by scoring 14 of Arizona’s first 18 points a 59-39 lead with 10:33 on the clock.
“He did what most great guards do,” said Harvard point guard Siyani Chambers, “he tried to make plays for himself, get two people to guard him and make plays for his teammates.”
Lyons was at the forefront of what was a wholly efficient game for the Wildcats, who will face the winner of Sunday’s Ohio State-Iowa State matchup in Dayton, Ohio.
Arizona shot 55.1 percent from the field (27-of-49), 60 percent from three (9-of-15), and had 39 rebounds (against 33 for Harvard).
The game was never very close, as the Wildcats led by 10 or more for all but the first five minutes and 21 seconds of the game. Harvard didn’t even hit its first basket until Chambers converted a 3-pointer eight minutes in, and opened the game hitting 2-of-22 shot attempts. Arizona jumped out to a 17-2 lead, negating a strong second half for the Crimson.
“We had some open opportunities early,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “Once we missed some we kinda got our heads down and they took advantage of it.
The Crimson didn’t go down without a fight though.
After a Parrom free throw with 3:24 left in the first half, Harvard trailed 37-15. The rest of the way, the score was 37-36 in Arizona’s favor.
“Sometimes when you get off to a slow start, it’s like you’re playing catch up the entire game,” Miller said. “I think that had something to do with our defense as well.
Harvard shot 27.6 percent (16-of-58) and 27.8 percent from three (5-of-18) and only had one player with 10 or more points — forward Kenyatta Smith scored 10. Its three-best scorers — Wesley Saunders, Lauren Rivard and Chambers — shot a combined 4-of-25 with 17 points and five turnovers.
“We have to continue to do that if we’re gonna continue to win in Los Angeles,” said forward Solomon Hill, who had a double-double of 13 points and 10 boards. “We have to continue the same defensive pressure, we have to keep looking at the same matchups and guys have to go out and keep executing.”
For more coverage, see the photo gallery of the Wildcats’ win over Harvard on Saturday.