March Madness: Clemson shuts out Caleb Love, Arizona to reach first Elite Eight since 1980

Chase Hunter and Clemson stunned Arizona to reach the Elite Eight for only the second time in program history on Thursday night. (Harry Cave/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES — For the first time in more than four decades, Clemson is headed to the Elite Eight.

After shutting down Caleb Love and No. 2 Arizona for most of the night, the Tigers held on for a 77-72 win over the Wildcats at Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles. This officially secured their program's second trip to the Elite Eight. It was also Arizona's fourth straight Sweet 16 loss, and its second in three seasons under coach Tommy Lloyd.

“They were the deserving team today,” Lloyd said. “They have a simple formula now. They kind of jump on people in games, got up three straight and forced teams to play from behind. We dug deep and got ourselves back into the game, but we were never able to take that next step.”

For most of the night, Love and the Wildcats' offense was generally flat. They got off to perhaps the worst possible start by opening the game on the wrong side of 16-6. Love went 0 of 5 from the field to start as well, and Clemson took full advantage. The Tigers maintained a double-digit lead deep into the half while largely controlling the floor on defense. Chase Hunter stuffed 7-footer Omar Ballou at the rim, then Chauncey Wiggins followed with a clutch 3-pointer after Love committed a bad turnover off the backboard.

Ballou cut the game to single digits in the first half with a pair of knockdowns, including a huge one-handed slam off an assist from Jaden Bradley in the final minute, but the Wildcats still entered the locker room down eight.

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Finally, love and the wildcats came back to life. They came out of halftime with a 12-4 run and tied the game on a layup and one out from Love just minutes into the first half. Love then punted again exactly two minutes later, giving them their first lead of the game.

But this extent of attack was short-lived. Arizona has almost completely shut down again. Despite getting to the free-throw line almost every time the Wildcats attacked the rim — they got the double bonus just seconds into the midpoint of the period — they started settling for bad, quick shots from behind the arc. They made just one of their next 19 field goal attempts, allowing the Tigers to stay one step ahead the rest of the way.

Arizona got close one final time after Bradley finally got a 3-pointer to go down, cutting the game to just two points with less than a minute left. However, Hunter came out on the other end, converting a layup and one that sent coach Brad Brownell into a Tiger Woods fist pump on the sidelines. His brother Dillon Hunter followed suit with three points of his own to seal the win by five points.

“That was definitely a big moment for our team,” Chase said. “When that happened, I was confident we were going to win that game. Our little brothers got one goal and sealed the win for us. Big play, secured the win.”

Ballou led Arizona with 15 points and 15 rebounds, although he made just 1 of 7 from the free throw line. Bradley added 18 points off the bench, and Love finished with 13 points while shooting 0-of-9 from beyond the arc.

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Hunter led the Tigers with 18 points and six rebounds in the win, and P.J. Hall finished with 17 points and eight rebounds. Clemson, which has trailed by less than a minute in the entire NCAA Tournament, will now face either Alabama or North Carolina in its first Elite Eight appearance since 1980 on Saturday night.

Arizona, on the other hand, will now return to Tucson after another disappointing exit from the tournament.

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