NCAAB: Clemson upends Arizona, makes first Elite Eight since ’80

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LOS ANGELES — Chase Hunter’s and-one play with 25.7 seconds remaining capped his game-high-matching 18-point performance, and No. 6 seed Clemson held off second-seeded Arizona to earn its first trip to the Elite Eight since 1980 with a 77-72 win in the NCAA Tournament West Regional on Thursday.

Clemson (24-11) led nearly wire-to-wire behind the play of Hunter — who also had seven rebounds and five assists — and PJ Hall, who scored 17 points and grabbed a team-high eight rebounds. Ian Schieffelin added 14 points, including some pivotal baskets in the second half, and snared seven rebounds.

Clemson hit five of its first seven 3-point attempts and scored 11 points off turnovers by the under-eight-minute media timeout of the first half, pushing its lead to as many as 13 points.

Arizona (27-9) went to a full-court pressure defense that turned the game’s tempo more in the Wildcats’ favor. After cutting the deficit to eight by halftime, Arizona opened the second half on a 12-4 spurt.

Oumar Ballo, who missed his first six free-throw attempts, garnered loud applause when he ended his drought. A steal by Kylan Boswell and an assist to a streaking Caleb Love on the ensuing Clemson possession gave Arizona its first lead at the 14:32 mark.

It did not lead again the rest of the way.

“All three teams (in the NCAA Tournament, New Mexico, Baylor and Arizona) we played, (offense) has been a strength of theirs,” Hall said of adjusting as Arizona looked to push the pace in the second half. “With each one, it kind of went up and up and up in their tempo.”

A pair of free throws by Jaden Bradley with 9:55 remaining tied the score at 56-56, but Hall’s lay-in and Schieffelin’s banked-in 3-pointer from the top of the key pushed Clemson’s lead back to five points.

“They’re going to make another run or two,” Tigers coach Brad Brownell said he told his team at halftime. “We use the phrase, ‘We’re built for this, we can handle this.’ We have confidence in our team. We’ve won some big-time road games this year, we’ve played a very challenging schedule.”

Arizona went through a scoreless stretch that lasted more than four minutes during which the Tigers had opportunities to extend their advantage but could not capitalize. The gap grew to no more than seven points.

The Wildcats pulled to within two on a late 3-pointer by Bradley (18 points) but could not bridge the gap. Bradley went 2-of-4 from beyond the arc, while the rest of Arizona’s shooters finished a combined 3-of-24.

“Some of them were good looks and shots we’ve made, you know, all season, and today they just didn’t go in,” Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd said. “To have that sort of shooting night and get yourself in the game we have a position to win it, I think it’s incredible and it just shows the resiliency and the toughness of these guys.

“Without (Bradley) playing the way he did, maybe we lose by 14 to 16 points.”

The All-American Love, who scored 13 points, went 0-of-9 from beyond the arc. He shot 5-of-18 from the floor overall.

Ballo finished with 15 points and 15 rebounds but was just 1-of-7 at the foul line. Keshad Johnson grabbed 11 rebounds to go with six points.

Chauncey Wiggins and RJ Godfrey scored eight and seven points, respectively, off the bench for Clemson, which is in a regional final for the first time since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64-plus teams.

–Kyle Kensing, Field Level Media

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