Arizona Basketball

To (Not) Live & Die in L.A.: Arizona loses again there in March Madness, this time to Clemson

Arizona finished its season 27-9 after the Sweet 16 loss to Clemson (Arizona Athletics photo)

Nothing angelic about the Los Angeles area for Arizona during March Madness.

In fact, it’s been hellish for the WIldcats in terms of the NCAA tournament over the last 26 years.

Arizona’s Sweet 16 and Elite Eight horrors in the Los Angeles area continued Thursday night with the second-seeded Wildcats eliminated 77-72 against No. 6 Clemson at Crypto Arena.

The Wildcats are now 5-7 in Sweet 16 and Elite Eight games out of their last seven trips to the L.A. area for March Madness dating to the forgettable 76-51 loss to Utah in the 1998 Elite Eight at Anaheim.

“(Clemson) executed a few really good plays down the stretch they got us on,” said Arizona third-year coach Tommy Lloyd, now 0-2 in the Sweet 16 in his brief head coaching career. “They banked in a 3. Those things make it tough to overcome so congrats to them and wish them the best of luck going forward.”

Clemson (23-12) advanced to its first Elite Eight appearance since 1980 with the win. The Tigers will play either No. 1 North Carolina or No. 4 Alabama on Saturday.

Arizona’s streak of not advancing to the Final Four has now reached 23 years after Lute Olson coached the Wildcats that far four times in a 13-year stretch.

“We had the ability to get to the Final Four and we didn’t — but that happens,” Lloyd said. “They dug deep all season. We worked really hard on kind of taking the next steps of our culture with Arizona basketball — I mean, really hard, very intentional with it and these guys are great participants.

“They really allowed me to kind of continue to build on the foundation of what we started at Arizona and what was before us. I’m thankful for that, and that’s what we’re going to continue to do — we’re going to build on that foundation and continue to get teams this competitive.

“And you know what? Our day in the sun will come.”

The six appearances in the L.A. area since the 1998 loss to Utah in the Elite Eight by Arizona, which was trying to defend its 1997 national title:

2003 — lost to Kansas 78-75 in the Elite Eight at Anaheim.

2011 — lost to UConn 65-63 in the Elite Eight at Anaheim.

2013 — lost to Ohio State 73-70 in the Sweet 16 at Los Angeles.

2014 — lost to Wisconsin 64-63 in overtime in the Elite Eight at Anaheim.

2015 — lost to Wisconsin 85-78 in the Elite Eight at Los Angeles.

2024 — lost to Clemson in the Sweet 16 at Los Angeles.

California as a state has not been favorable for the Wildcats this time of year with an upset loss to Princeton in the first round last year at Sacramento and Arizona losing in 2017 at San Jose against Xavier in a Sweet 16 game.

Things got bleak for Arizona (27-9) early in the game against Clemson when the Tigers took a 16-6 lead with 11:18 left in the half.

Wildcats were 2 of 13 from field and 1 of 7 from 3-point range and they had four turnovers at that point.

It was like Arizona climbing Mount Everest afterward — gaining some ground, only to slip a few feet before trying again.

The Wildcats never gained their footing, leading only for a total of 20 seconds in the game.

“I felt like at the end, we did a great job battling and trying to get stops, but Clemson did a great job with their plays and and their shotmaking,” Jaden Bradley said. “We couldn’t really get over the hump. We got the lead a couple of times, but they kept battling as well.”

Clemson’s lead mushroomed to 29-16 with 6:43 left in the first half, but Arizona rallied to not allow the game to completely get away.

The Wildcats outscored Clemson 13-6 to cut the lead to 35-29 with 2:10 left, punctuated by a thunderous one-handed lob dunk by Oumar Ballo.

Arizona trailed 39-31 at halftime, a situation it struggled with this season and in Lloyd’s career.

The Wildcats are now 2-5 this season and 8-14 in Lloyd’s three years when trailing at halftime.

“We got off to a little slow start at the beginning, so at halftime we were hoping to dig deep, dig deep, getting stops and just trying to do whatever it takes to help my team,” Bradley said.

Arizona outscored Clemson 12-4 to start the second half to tie the game at 43 with 16:33 left.

The Wildcats took their only lead of the game, 46-45, with 14:32 left on Caleb Love’s fourth made field goal of the game (he finished his Arizona career 5 of 18 from the field, 0 of 9 from 3-point range).

Incredibly, Arizona did not make another shot from the field until 4:21 remained when Bradley made a 3-pointer, cutting Clemson’s lead to 65-61.

Bradley’s shot ended a string of 13 consecutive misses from the field for Arizona, including seven from beyond the arc despite the fact that Clemson reached the bonus in fouls with 11:17 left.

The Wildcats resorted for 3’s rather than attack Clemson’s zone defense for the most part.

Still, despite the cold shooting, Arizona had a shot at the win with another 3-pointer by Bradley with 42 seconds left to cut the lead to 72-70.

Clemson shut the door, however, thanks to defensive breakdowns by Arizona, including allowing a basket off a back-cut by Chase Hunter with 25 seconds left.

After a layup by Love with 15 seconds left, Dillon Hunter broke free from Arizona’s fullcourt pressure defense and was fouled while making a layup with 9 seconds left.

Hunter missed the subsequent free throw and Bradley’s 3-pointer with 5 seconds left was off the mark.

Game over.

Season over.

Bradley finished with a team-high 18 points on 4-of-9 shooting from the field and 8 of 9 from the free-throw line.

“I’m proud of the guys and proud of our coaches and our culture,” said Bradley, a transfer from Alabama who will challenge for the starting point guard role next season. “We weren’t able to achieve the goal that we wanted to achieve but we’re still a tight group, we still love each other … we still love each other off the court so it’s good.”

Ballo had 15 points and 15 rebounds for his 20th double-double of the season and 34th of his career.

He was a big reason why Arizona outrebounded Clemson 44-36 and scored 40 points in the paint.

Love had 13 points in his final game as a Wildcat.

Kylan Boswell finished with three points on 1-of-6 sooting from the field, 1 of 5 from beyond the arc.

To wit: Arizona was 5 of 28 (17.9 percent) from 3-point range and 20 of 39 (51.3 percent) within the arc … and the Wildcats shot that well inside the 3-point line despite missing numerous close-range shots.

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

FOLLOW @JAVIERJMORALES ON TWITTER! publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports,, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon. He became an educator in 2016 and is presently a special education teacher at Sunnyside High School in the Sunnyside Unified School District.

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