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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

NCAA Tournament: Clemson upsets Tommy Lloyd’s Arizona for rare Elite Eight berth

By John W. Davis Tribune News Service

The Clemson basketball team was unfazed by pregame “U of A” chants.

Chase Hunter scored 18 points and converted a three-point play with 25.7 seconds remaining, and Clemson used stifling perimeter defense and clutch shooting to advance to the Elite Eight for the second time in school history, beating Arizona 77-72 in a West Region semifinal on Thursday night at Arena in Los Angeles.

“That was definitely a big moment for our team,” Hunter said postgame about his game-sealing basket. “When that went in I had confidence we were going to win that game.”

“Chase Hunter is the best two-way guard in America now,” Clemson senior center PJ Hall said, who scored 17 points and grabbed eight rebounds for the sixth-seeded Tigers (24-11), who advanced to face No. 4 seed Alabama.

Clemson last reached the final eight in 1980, when there were only 48 teams in the NCAA Tournament.

Coach Brad Brownell was making his second appearance in the second weekend of March Madness in his 14 seasons with the Tigers.

“I just think our guys have a lot of belief in each other, and I certainly have a lot of belief in my team,” Brownell said. “And we’re playing good basketball right now.

“And anything can happen in these tournaments. You’ve got to have really good players. I have good players. When you have players you try to do the best job you can as a coach to put them in positions to be successful. And when these guys capitalize like they have been, good things are going to happen.”

“It’s incredible to go through some trials and tribulations to get where we’re at now,” Hall added.

Hunter, a senior guard, added seven rebounds and five assists to his team-high point total. Junior forward Ian Schieffelin added 14 points and seven rebounds.

After upsetting No. 3 seed Baylor in the second round and rallying around Brownell, the Tigers came into the game with momentum.

“It always means a lot when your players have your back,” Brownell said before the game.

Arizona (27-9), the Pac-12 regular-season champion, was held to 37.3% shooting (25 for 67) overall and had a particularly horrific showing from 3-point range, going 5 for 28 (17.9%). Pac-12 Player of the Year Caleb Love had 13 points, but missed all nine of his 3-point shots as the Wildcats failed in their bid to reach the Elite Eight for the 12th time overall and the first time since 2015.

Sophomore guard Jaden Bradley had 18 points to pace Arizona off the bench, and senior center Oumar Ballo had a double-double with 15 points and 15 rebounds. Love, a senior guard, converted a layup to cut Clemson’s lead to 75-72 with 15 seconds left.

“I think our guys deserve a ton of credit,” Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd said. “To have that sort of shooting night and get yourself in the game where you have a position to win, and I think it’s incredible. And it just shows the resiliency and toughness of these guys.”

Sophomore guard Dillon Hunter, Chase’s younger brother, went unaccounted for behind Arizona’s defense when the Wildcats were supposed to foul and made a layup through contact for a 77-72 lead with 9 seconds left.

“Little bro got that and-one and sealed it for us,” Chase Hunter continued. “Big play, secured the win.”

The Tigers led by as much as 13 in the first half and were locked in early on defense, which forced the Wildcats to miss their first six shots. Clemson led 39-31 at halftime.

Arizona responded with an 8-0 run early in the second half, highlighted by Ballo’s big dunk off a no-look pass from sophomore guard Kylan Boswell to trim the margin to 43-40. A three-point play from Love tied the score at 43.

“We dug deep and we got ourselves back in the game but we were just never able to take that next step,” Lloyd continued.

Chase Hunter, who scored Clemson’s first six points of the second half, put the Tigers back up 45-43 with a midrange jump shot.

Love’s steal and layup gave the Wildcats their first lead of the game at 46-45, but 3-pointers from Jack Clark and Joseph Girard III gave Clemson a 53-48 lead.

Arizona tied the score at 56 on two free throws by Bradley, who went 8 of 9 from the line. Hall’s layup and Schieffelin’s 3-pointer put Clemson ahead 61-56 with 8:56 remaining. Hall’s wide-open dunk gave Clemson a 65-58 advantage.

Bradley’s effort kept Arizona within striking distance and his dunk cut the deficit to 66-63 with 3:26 left. Hall made two free throws, but Ballo’s layup got Arizona within 68-65. Hall’s driving layup again established a five-point lead, but Ballo responded with another inside basket to get the Wildcats within 70-67 with 1:29 remaining. Hall’s dunk off an inbounds pass made it 72-67 with 1:05 left, but a Bradley 3-pointer cut it to 72-70 with 49.4 seconds left, setting the stage for Clemson’s finishing kick.

“We harp on toughness,” Bradley said. “In the beginning, we weren’t so tough, but I feel at the end we did a great job battling and trying to get stops. But Clemson did a great job with their plays and their shot making, and we couldn’t really get over the hump. We had the lead a couple times but they kept battling as well.”

Chase Hunter put the game out of reach when he drove for his layup while being fouled by Bradley with 25.7 seconds left. Hunter’s free throw made it a five-point game.

“I just wanted to make a play,” he said. “At the end of the day, I wanted to get to the basket, wanted to get an and-one, wanted to make something happen, and that’s what I did.”

Clemson shot 49.2% from the field (29 of 59) and held its third consecutive opponent below 40% shooting in the NCAA Tournament.

The Tigers led the game for 37:05 compared to Arizona, which briefly led for 20 seconds in the second half.

(1) Connecticut 82, (5) San Diego State 52: The undersized Aztecs climbed into the ring in Boston against the NCAA Tournament’s No. 1 overall seed in the Sweet 16, took their swing and ended up on their backs just like UConn’s previous eight opponents in the Big Dance.

That makes it nine straight NCAA Tournament wins for the Huskies, all by 15 or more points. The three this year are by an average of 28.7 points.

(4) Alabama 89, (1) North Carolina 87: For UNC, it was a stinging loss; one in which it came undone on offense during the first 10 minutes of the second half, and one defined by late-game, last-second breakdowns in execution in Los Angeles.

Grant Nelson, who led Alabama with 24 points and 12 rebounds and proved to be an insurmountable force, especially in the second half, made two more free throws and that was just about it. Nineteen of Nelson’s 24 points came in the second half.

(3) Illinois 72, (2) Iowa State 69: Terrence Shannon Jr. led the Fighting Illini with 29 points in Boston, helping his team advance to the Elite Eight for the first time since 2004.