Arizona fends off Dayton's comeback bid, moves closer to home-state Final Four

Arizona is two wins away from playing in the Final Four, a two-hour drive from its campus.

The second-seeded Wildcats became the first team to advance to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday with a hard-fought 78-68 win over resilient and never-say-die Dayton.

Two days ago, Dayton trailed by 17 midway through the second half of a first-round matchup against Nevada. The seventh-ranked Flyers responded with a 24-4 surge to stun the Wolfpack and extend their season.

On Saturday, Dayton again trailed by 17 in the first half, suffering an early barrage of 3-pointers from streak-shooting Arizona guard Caleb Love. The Flyers responded with a 10-0 halftime surge to cut the deficit to three, but the Wildcats didn't wilt when faced with game pressure.

Instead of letting Dayton continue to force 7-foot Omar Ballo to defend pick-and-rolls, Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd went to a small-ball unit with versatile forward Keshad Johnson in the middle. The change helped the Wildcats put together a string of games to extend their Sweet 16 matchup back to double digits against either third-seeded Baylor or sixth-seeded Clemson on Thursday in Los Angeles.

Love scored 13 of his team-high 19 points in the opening 12 minutes to help Arizona out of the early blocks in a game that was tipped at 10:45 a.m. MT. Dayton star Daron Holmes II kept his team within striking distance with 23 points and 11 rebounds, with most of the versatile, athletic forward's damage coming via the pick-and-roll.

March 23, 2024;  Salt Lake City, UT, USA;  Arizona Wildcats guard Caleb Love (2) reacts after a basket in the first half of the second round of the 2024 NCAA Tournament against the Dayton Flyers at Vivint Smart Home Arena-Delta Center.  Mandatory credit: Gabriel Mayberry-USA TODAY Sports

Arizona guard Caleb Love (2) leads his team to a second-round victory over the Dayton Flyers on Saturday in Salt Lake City. (Gabriel Mayberry-USA TODAY Sports)

Arizona's win keeps the Pac-12 outright in its final NCAA tournament. With Washington State, Oregon and Colorado still to play in the Round of 32, the conference's dying power is 6-0 this week.

In three seasons at Arizona, Lloyd has won nearly 90 games, captured two Pac-12 titles and claimed two conference tournament crowns. The only thing Lloyd hasn't done yet is coach the Wildcats deep into the NCAA tournament.

Two years ago, top-seeded Arizona swept TCU in the Round of 32, then lost to Houston in the Sweet 16. Last year, second-ranked Arizona didn't win a game, falling to Princeton. In the first round.

A deep run is still possible this year. And a home-placed Final Four is an exciting possibility.

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