Arizona’s shooters turn cold as Clemson finally returns to Elite Eight in men’s NCAA Tournament

PJ Hall points to his teammates to acknowledge an assist following a dunk. Clemson was much more effective on offense than Arizona in their Sweet 16 meeting in Los Angeles Thursday. (Photo by Bennett Silyvn/Cronkite News)

LOS ANGELES – Love is all you need? Not when it come to the men’s NCAA Tournament.

When the Arizona Wildcats’ star guard failed from 3-point range Thursday night, his teammates struggled to pick up the slack. That helped the Clemson Tigers advance to their school’s second-ever Elite Eight with a 77-72 victory in a West Regional semifinal of the men’s NCAA Tournament at Arena.

The Wildcats struggled offensively throughout the game, shooting 25 of 67 (37.3%) from the field and just 5 of 28 (17.9%) from outside the arc. Guards Caleb Love and Pelle Larsson combined to go 1 of 15 in 3-point attempts with Love missing all nine of his tries en route to 13 points.

Clemson was hot, shooting 49% from the field.

“I thought Clemson did a good job and kind of got us on our heels offensively early in the game,” Lloyd said. “And we settled for a lot of tough shots. And then that’s what kind of allowed them to get out.”

Arizona ranks third nationally in average points per game (87.6) during the regular season, but the Tigers’ defense was stingy and held the Wildcats to 72 points. The Wildcats started the first half stagnant and made careless passes, uneager to get back on defense and allowed easy points in the paint.

Eventually, Arizona found its offensive rhythm with eight minutes left in the first half from 7-foot centers Motiejus Krivas and Oumar Ballo, ending the half trailing the Tigers 39-31.

“We talked about it at half-time,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. “Guys are going to make another run or two. We can use the phrase ‘We will go for this’ or ‘We can handle this.’ We have confidence in our team. We have won some big-time road games this year. We have played very challenging schedules. The ACC is much better than everybody may assume. I think the league prepares us for these kinds of games.”

Ballo had a strong offensive performance with 15 points and 15 rebounds.

“Rebounding wins games. I wish we did a little bit of a better job of boxing them out,” Ballo said.

He did struggle on the foul line, making just 1 of 7 tries.

Arizona’s bench players, including backup point guard Jaden Bradley, came up big, posting 18 points, four rebounds, three assists and two blocks. And he hit a 3-pointer with 49 seconds left in the game to close the gap to 72-70. KJ Lewis contributed seven points, two rebounds and one assist.

During the second half, the Wildcats picked up the pace to challenge the Tigers’ defense and led by one six minutes in after trailing throughout most of the game. Clemson changed its defense from man to a 3-2 zone after Arizona slowly built its offense back up again. But once again, the Wildcats lost their momentum as the Tigers’ main priority was to change the pace of Arizona offense.

“The entire team knows that all three teams we have played, (pace has) just been a strength of theirs,” Clemson’s 6-foot-10 center PJ Hall said. “All the teams have had a fast-paced (offense), from New Mexico to Baylor, now Arizona, seems like each (team) just went up and up in their tempo. Arizona has one of the best offenses and fastest in the country. Limiting good rhythm and open threes was huge.”

Arizona could not keep up on the offensive side against Clemson’s solid defense. It had hoped to advance to the Elite Eight for the first time since 2015.

Instead, the Wildcats’ road to the Final Four has come to an end.

Dalanie Todd(she/her/hers)
Sports Reporter, Los Angeles

Dalanie Todd expects to graduate in May 2024 with a master’s degree in sports journalism. Todd has reported on numerous sports at different levels including high school, college and the pros in the Phoenix area. She interned as a reporter for Sports360AZ and was the beat reporter for Williams Field High School varsity football team for the AIA.

Bennett Silvyn BEH-nit SIL-vin
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Bennett Silvyn expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism and a minor in business, marketing and sports management. Silvyn has interned in marketing and social media for the Arizona Sports and Entertainment Commission, as a reporter for Arizona Foothills Magazine, in sponsorships for the Arizona Rattlers and in social and digital media for FC Tucson. Silvyn has also reported for the Walter Cronkite Sports Network and The State Press.