SPOKANE — Those kids from Harvard are getting a passing grade when it comes to the first game of the NCAA tournament.
Ask New Mexico last year. Ask Cincinnati now.
“I’ve heard this before where there really aren’t upsets anymore,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “There may be some surprises, but I just think when you’re looking at seeds and if you’re playing this time of year, you’re probably a pretty good basketball team.”
Siyani Chambers scored 11 points, including five straight in the final two minutes, and 12th-seeded Harvard won its second NCAA tournament game in history, upsetting Cincinnati 61-57 on Thursday.
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Wesley Saunders led the Crimson (27-4) with 12 points as Harvard proved last year’s upset of New Mexico as a 14 seed was no fluke. The Crimson became the first Ivy League school with NCAA tournament wins in consecutive years since Princeton in 1983-84. They will play Michigan State in the third round.
Harvard never trailed after the opening moments. The Crimson played with confidence and scrap against the fifth-seeded Bearcats, who shared the American Athletic Conference regular season title. Sean Kilpatrick led Cincinnati (27-7) with 18 points, but the Bearcats failed to win a tournament game for the second straight year.
There was a reason Harvard was a popular pick on bracket sheets around the country. Even President Barack Obama was on Harvard to take out the Bearcats.
“Getting a victory in this kind of environment and this kind of setting is very exciting,” Chambers said. “You can never describe it, no matter how many times you do it.”
But don’t call it an upset. At least not in the eyes of Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin or Amaker. Last year’s win over New Mexico was the time for celebration. This victory — as evidenced by the subdued locker room — was expected by the Crimson.
“In my mind, today’s game was anything but an upset,” Cronin said.
Connecticut 89, Saint Joseph’s 81
BUFFALO, N.Y. — With Jim Calhoun watching from the stands, Shabazz Napier capped Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie’s first NCAA tournament appearance with a win.
Shaking off a 23-foot miss at the second-half buzzer, Napier scored nine of his 24 points in overtime to lead seventh-seeded UConn (27-8) to a win over 10th-seeded Saint Joseph’s (24-10).
DeAndre Daniels scored 18 while freshman center Amida Brimah forced overtime by completing a three-point play in the final minute. The Huskies advance to play Saturday, when they’ll face No. 2 seed Villanova.
Villanova 73, Milwaukee 53
BUFFALO, N.Y. — Darrun Hilliard scored 16 points, JayVaughn Pinkston added 13 and Villanova beat Milwaukee.
The Wildcats (29-4), the No. 2 seed in the East Region, will play seventh-seeded Connecticut (27-8).
No. 15 seed Milwaukee (21-14), the surprise champion of the Horizon League, led for much of the first half before fading late.
Villanova was eager to get back on the court after being upset last week by Seton Hall in the Big East tournament quarterfinals, but the effect of that loss seemed to linger.
A 12-point run spanning halftime gave the Wildcats a nine-point lead early in the second half.