SALT LAKE CITY - Four years later, you could say, the NCAA worlds are aligning again for the Arizona Wildcats.
Arizona finished the regular season 5-5 but was allowed to stay in Pac-12 country to open NCAA tournament play once UCLA guard Jordan Adams broke his foot and the selection committee downgraded the Bruins.
The Wildcats were then matched up with a much smaller team in their opener and destroyed Belmont on the boards during an 81-64 victory Thursday.
And now, a 14 seed? All that remains between the Wildcats and a virtual trip "home" for the Sweet 16 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, where many of their players and thousands of their fans live: just a win over Harvard today at EnergySolutions Arena.
Of course, the Wildcats will tell you it's all not that simple. And they have some evidence: Despite losing two of its best players to an academic scandal, Harvard (20-9) beat Cal at Berkeley, played St. Mary's and Memphis tough on the road, and upset 10th-ranked New Mexico in their opener Thursday.
"You can't overlook Harvard," UA forward Kevin Parrom said. "Just look at New Mexico. See what they did? They're going home. We don't want to do that."
But, really, doesn't it all seem a little like 2009? While UA squeaked into the NCAA tournament in that Russ Pennell-coached season before Sean Miller's arrival, the Wildcats were matched up with a double-digit seed in their second game as they are today. In 2009, Arizona upset Utah and then faced 13th-seeded Cleveland State, which was riding an emotional high after beating fourth-seeded Wake Forest 84-69 in their first game.
Cleveland State then lost 71-57 to Arizona in Miami, Fla., putting the Wildcats in an improbable Sweet 16 just as the final recruiting fumes of the Lute Olson Era - Chase Budinger, Jordan Hill and Nic Wise - were dissipating.
Harvard may have an even loftier plateau to climb down from, after its first-ever NCAA tournament win Thursday.
Coach Tommy Amaker said fans were on hand to cheer the Crimson as they got off their bus Thursday night at their team hotel, and that was nothing compared to what was going on around the rest of the world.
Harvard's president called Amaker from Korea, a former player called from Sweden after the game ended at 6 a.m. in Scandinavia and, of course, social media was blowing up everywhere.
"Everybody has just been tweeting, Facebook, everything," Harvard wing Wesley Saunders said. "People from my family, people I didn't know about. Just everybody is excited."
Guard Christian Webster said Friday that it was a "crazy 12 hours" after the win, and that the Crimson had just started to recover.
"It's been tough," Webster said. "But I think the celebration ended this morning."
Amaker said he's hoping that the Ivy League's tight Friday-Saturday scheduling could help the Crimson turn quickly around from Thursday, and the UA coaching staff can rattle off a number of other reasons why Harvard can win.
"Here's the thing with Harvard: They're a very good, disciplined, well-coached team," UA assistant coach Book Richardson said. "They don't fear anyone. They had a really good Memphis team on the ropes, and they just beat a top-10 team on a neutral site when they were 11-point underdogs. They're incredible."
Richardson went on to say Harvard was "a high-major Division I basketball team that happens to play in the Ivy League," but it's also his job to convince the Wildcats that they are. Richardson is the game scout, having watched Harvard video all week while associate head coach James Whitford concentrated on New Mexico.
The Cats received the message.
"When people think of Harvard they think of an academic school, but they've been playing really good basketball," UA forward Grant Jerrett said. "They beat Cal, beat New Mexico. You've got to give them respect."
UA forward Solomon Hill, who has treated all games with an unusually even intensity this season, said he wasn't a bit surprised to see Harvard beat New Mexico, either.
"Not at all," Hill said. "They're a good basketball team. They went on to execute their game plan against New Mexico, and at times it wasn't even close.
"They're a program on the rise. You have to note that two of their best players are not playing this year. If those two players were here, they would probably be a higher seed and playing somewhere else."
Of course, those are the kinds of words UA coach Sean Miller is probably glad, but not surprised, to hear.
"I believe our team is mature enough to understand that Harvard is really good," Miller said. "The job that Tommy Amaker and his staff have done, the team they have on the court, what they just did to beat a team as talented as New Mexico, that speaks for itself. We don't need any extra motivation."
More on StarNet
• A basket-by-basket breakdown of Arizona's season: azstarnet.com/ArizonaStats
• Find more photos from Arizona's rout of Belmont at azstarnet.com/gallery
• West Region, third round: No. 6 Arizona vs. No. 14 Harvard
• Where: Salt Lake City
• When: 3:10 p.m.
• TV; radio: TNT; 1290-AM, 107.5-FM
Contact Bruce Pascoe at 573-4145 or email@example.com. On Twitter @brucepascoe