SALT LAKE CITY – So much for that trendy upset pick.
The Arizona Wildcats, picked often this week by national analysts to suffer an upset by 11th seeded Belmont, instead clamped down defensively and held the normally sharpshooting Bruins to just 39.2 percent shooting from the field in an 81-64 win in their NCAA tournament opener at EnergySolutions Arena.
The win moved Arizona to 26-7 and put the Wildcats in a third round game Saturday against Harvard at 3:10 p.m. on Saturday. The Crimson upset New Mexico 68-62 in Thursday's late game.
Belmont, winners of the Ohio Valley Conference, ended its season at 26-7.
Mark Lyons led the Wildcats offensively with 23 points, but had only one assist to two turnovers. Kevin Parrom and Kaleb Tarczewski each had 12 points and eight rebounds for UA.
After taking a 12-point halftime lead while holding Belmont to 25.9-percent shooting in the first half, the Wildcats did slip up defensively in the second half. They allowed Belmont to shoot 54.2 percent, but maintained a double-digit lead for most of the second half.
Arizona led by up to 21 points in the second half, although the Bruins gave the Wildcats a minor scare with over five minutes left when they scored two three-pointers within seven seconds to pull within 64-53. They hit a second three after Brandon Ashley turned the ball over on the inbounds pass.
To open the second half, the Wildcats went on a 9-3 run, while making 4 of 5 field goals and keeping Belmont off the boards in the first three minutes to take a 41-23 lead.
Arizona had taken a 32-20 halftime lead, allowing Belmont to make only 2 of 13 three-pointers. Belmont’s leading scorer, Ian Clark, had 11 points but made only 1 of 5 threes before halftime.
The Wildcats also smothered the smaller Bruins on the boards, with a 27-9 rebounding advantage. However, UA committed 10 turnovers, and Belmont scored 10 points off them.
Mark Lyons led UA in scoring with nine points but shot just 2 for 7 from the field and had no assists with one turnover.
Up just 23-19 entering the final three minutes of the half, Arizona had a three-pointer from Nick Johnson and an inside score from Kaleb Tarczewski to pull back into a double-digit lead by halftime.
For the second time in the half, Belmont had pulled within a basket when Clark scored twice but Lyons hit two free throws with 4:16 left to put UA ahead 23-18.
Arizona took an early 14-4 lead, having held Belmont to 1-for-11 shooting and 0-for-4 three-point shooting to that point. The only Bruins basket during that stretch was a driving layup from Clark.
But Belmont finally became unhinged and pulled to within 16-14 after leading scorer Clark hit a 19-footer and a three-pointer midway through the half.
Neither team shot particularly well over the first 12 minutes: UA hit 37.5 percent and Belmont was 31.3. UA also six turnovers to that point while Belmont scored nine points off them.
Belmont was 26-6 entering the game, having won the Ohio Valley regular season and tournament titles. The Wildcats were 25-7.
Arizona will now face the winner of tonight’s New Mexico-Harvard game on Saturday at a time that will be determined later tonight.