Alabama and Clemson upset Arizona and North Carolina, set up Elite Eight clash

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Alabama played Clemson in the CFP National Championship three times from 2016-2019. They will now face off in the Elite Eight with a shot to advance to the Final Four.

LOS ANGELES — Grant Nelson scored fourth-seeded Alabama’s final five points, including a late three-point play that put the Crimson Tide ahead for good in a 89-87 win over top-seeded North Carolina on Thursday in an NCAA Tournament West Region semifinal.

Alabama (24-11) rallied from an eight-point halftime deficit, holding North Carolina to seven points through the first 10 minutes of the second half. The Crimson Tide’s defensive effort to open the second half produced a back-and-forth final stretch in a contest that featured 13 ties and 12 lead changes.

The Crimson Tide advance to face sixth-seeded Clemson on Saturday in the regional final.

The final lead change came with 38 seconds left when Nelson, who scored a game-high 24 points, converted at the rim while being fouled by Jae’Lyn Withers. The basket, set up when Nelson rolled and Mark Sears fired off the assist, put the Crimson Tide up 86-85, and Nelson added the and-one free throw.

Nelson sank two more free throws with seven seconds left. A layup from North Carolina’s Armando Bacot sliced the margin to two with 0.9 seconds to go. Nelson then missed two foul shots, but he blocked Harrison Ingram’s desperation heave at the buzzer.

Aaron Estrada scored 19 points for Alabama on 9-of-17 shooting from the floor, and Rylan Griffen shot 5-for-8 from 3-point range en route to 19 points. Sears finished with 18 points, and Nelson added a team-high 12 rebounds.

Bacot led North Carolina with 19 points and 12 rebounds. Cormac Ryan scored 17 points, RJ Davis had 16 points and seven assists, and Ingram chipped in 12 points.

While Alabama slowed the Tar Heels in the second half, a break-neck offensive pace defined the first half.

North Carolina (29-8) shot 10-for-16 from 3-point range through the initial 20 minutes on the way to 54 halftime points.

Five Tar Heels reached at least eight points by intermission with the trio of Ryan, Bacot and Ingram all in double figures.

Alabama countered with Griffen, Sears and Estrada in double figures by halftime, and the Crimson Tide were 7-for-14 from long distance. Alabama finished 11-for-26 (42.3 percent) from beyond the arc, while North Carolina cooled down to close at 12-for-32 (37.5 percent).

The Tar Heels wound up shooting 38.5 percent from the floor overall, including 25 percent (10-for-40) in the second half.

Clemson upends Arizona, makes first Elite Eight since ’80

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 six rebounds and five assists — and PJ Hall, who scored 17 points and grabbed a team-high eight rebounds. Ian Schiefflin 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 ending the drought. A steal by Kylan Boswell and 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.

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

Arizona went through a scoreless stretch lasting 4:19 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.

All-American Caleb Love, who scored 13 points, went 0-of-9 from long range.

Ballo finished with 15 points and 15 rebounds but was just 1-of-7 at the foul line.