Post-season hoops: ASU is done, UA is moving on

And then there was one.  The last Arizona college team left standing in the post-season is the University of Arizona Wildcats.

At least until this afternoon.

Arizona is marching its way through the NCAA brackets, but Arizona State is heading back to Tempe after losing to Baylor in the second round of the National Invitational Tournament (NIT).   The Sun Devils opened play in the tournament, which this year finds a number of prominent programs in its field, with a resounding win over Detroit, 83-68.  But a slow start to its offense kept ASU from gaining enough momentum to put the Bears away – even though the Devils scored almost 90 points.

Carrick Felix led the Devil attack with 23 points and was joined by three teammates in double figures: Jahii Carson (20), Chris Colvin (15), and Evan Gordon (14).  But it wasn’t quite enough.

The 89-86 loss brought ASU’s season to a close after compiling a 22-13 record, the fourth 20-win season during Herb Sendek‘s seven years as head coach in Tempe.  That’s more than the program accomplished in the 25 years prior to his arrival from North Carolina State.

But it’s not enough to pull talented recruits away from the bright star in Tucson.  Sean Miller is in his fourth season at the controls of the Wildcat program, taking over a trandition-rich program built by hall-of-fame coach, Lute Olson.  He has averaged 23 wins a season and took the program to a top-10 national ranking this season.

And his current squad is taking care of business as it works its way back to the heights of its 2010-11 team that made it to the Elite Eight.

After an 81-64 dispatching of No. 11-seeded Belmont yesterday in a display of its rebounding strength, the Wildcats move on to meet surprising upstart, Harvard, this afternoon.  Harvard, a No. 14 seed pulled one of the major upsets of the tournament by beating No. 3 New Mexico, a team most analysts had predicted could go deep into the tourney this year.  The Ivy League upstart used a strong inside game to record the first NCAA Tournament win in school history, pushing past New Mexico and getting a chance to meet No. 6 Arizona.

Harvard will likely put up a bigger challenge in the paint for Arizona, which is where Belmont fell short.  Arizona out-rebounded Belmont, 44-18 – one of the Cats’ best rebounding performances of the season.  But the offense was also clicking from all over the court, as Arizona put up more points than they have in the last two months.

Mark Lyons, the senior point guard that transferred in from Xavier to use his final year of eligibility to provide the floor leadership the Cats desperately needed this season, poured in 23 points, and Kevin Parrom added 12 points and eight rebounds.  As a team, they shot a sizzling 56.9 percent from the field.

And the defense showed up, too, as Belmont was held to 39.2 percent shooting – one of the few times the Crimson have finished a game below 40 percent.

They will need a repeat performance this afternoon, as Harvard has averaged almost 50 percent on the season, putting up an average 70 points a game.  Three players average in double figures.

But the hard work under the glass will likely decide this one, as Arizona holds the advantage in size and rebounding stats.

And the Wildcats will need to do a better job of holding on to the ball.  They committed 16 turnovers against Belmont.

Tip-off is scheduled for 3:10 pm at EnergySolutions Arena in Salt Lake City.

(Photo: Arizona Athletics)