Arizona guard Caleb Love (2) brings the ball up court...

Arizona guard Caleb Love (2) brings the ball up court while guarded by Dayton guard Enoch Cheeks (6) during the first half of a second-round college basketball game in the NCAA Tournament in Salt Lake City, Saturday, March 23, 2024. Credit: AP/Isaac Hale

SALT LAKE CITY — Caleb Love scored 19 points and second-seeded Arizona reached the Sweet 16 for the second time in three seasons, beating No. 7 seed Dayton 78-68 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday.

The Wildcats (27-8), who also reached a regional semifinal in 2022 in coach Tommy Lloyd’s first season, will face either the West Region’s No. 6 seed, Clemson, or third-seeded Baylor in Los Angeles on Thursday night.

Arizona's two wins in Salt Lake City helped the program ease the sting of last year's first-round loss to 15th-seeded Princeton.

“We’re really excited to be back,” Wildcats guard Pelle Larsson said. “I feel like it’s been a (long) journey to come back here. But I think the journey has made us stronger and this team is ready for it.”

Keshad Johnson and Larsson each had 13 points and seven rebounds for Arizona. Larsson also had six assists, and Jaden Bradley scored 12 points off the bench. The Wildcats shot 53% from the field and made eight 3-pointers.

DaRon Holmes II had 23 points and 11 rebounds for the Flyers (25-8), who were denied their first Sweet 16 appearance since 2014. Koby Brea added 14 points and Kobe Elvis scored 13 for Dayton, which trailed by 17 points in the first half but stayed within striking distance nearly to the end.

“We weren’t as aggressive as we wanted to be at the start, and ultimately, when we started with the pressure, we had some success,” Elvis said.

Dayton guard Malachi Smith, left, dunks over Dayton forward DaRon...

Dayton guard Malachi Smith, left, dunks over Dayton forward DaRon Holmes II (15) during the first half of a second-round college basketball game in the NCAA Tournament in Salt Lake City, Saturday, March 23, 2024. Credit: AP/Isaac Hale

Arizona staved off a potential rally when Bradley capped a 10-0 run with a 3-pointer to give the Wildcats a 66-51 lead with 6:51 remaining. Two front-end misses by Holmes on one-and-one trips to the line thwarted Dayton’s comeback bid.

Dayton trimmed the deficit to single digits multiple times, drawing within 71-64 on a pair of free throws from Nate Santos with 55.1 seconds left. The Wildcats went 7 of 8 from the line in the final minute to put the game away.

“That’s key, staying calm in those moments when they’re making a run,” Love said. “Not panicking. We stuck to the plan, and we got the job done.”

Dayton initially struggled to adjust to Arizona’s speedy offense and defensive length. The Wildcats allowed only two baskets over a 10 1/2-minute stretch in the first half. The Flyers missed 15 of 17 shots as they fell into a deep hole.

Dayton guard Koby Brea (4) celebrates after making a basket...

Dayton guard Koby Brea (4) celebrates after making a basket against Arizona during the first half of a second-round college basketball game in the NCAA Tournament in Salt Lake City, Saturday, March 23, 2024. Credit: AP/Isaac Hale

“Their pressure to start the game was disruptive,” Dayton coach Anthony Grant said. “We were trying to run offense and we had a difficult time running offense.”

Figuring out how to stop Love was also a chore for Dayton.

Love made five of Arizona’s first 10 baskets and had 13 points in the first 12 minutes. The senior guard, who reached the national title game two years ago while playing for North Carolina, knocked down a pair of 3-pointers to spark a 10-2 run that put the Wildcats up 30-16 with 7:37 left in the first half.

“Caleb is a great player,” Bradley said. “He can get it going at any time.”

Arizona extended its lead to 17 points before Dayton tightened its on-ball defense. The Flyers turned up the pressure on the Wildcat guards and forced four turnovers over a two-minute stretch, powering a 10-0 spurt that cut Arizona’s lead to 40-33 at halftime. Holmes and Brea bookended the run with 3-pointers.

TURNOVER REVERSAL

Arizona shot 64% from the field in the first half, but also had 11 turnovers. The Wildcats cut down on mistakes after halftime. They committed only four second-half turnovers, none over the final 3 1/2 minutes.

Dayton missed three shots and scored just two points off those second-half takeaways. On the other end, Arizona forced eight turnovers to cut short the Flyers' comeback bid.

“Our guys did a good job of regrouping at halftime,” Lloyd said. “We changed our plan of attack and played with better fundamentals overall in handling their pressure.”

SPARK MODE

Bradley scored all three of his baskets after halftime to help Arizona keep Dayton at a safe distance down the stretch. It came at a critical time, with the Flyers limiting Love to a single second-half basket.

The Wildcats have come to expect that type of spark from their sophomore guard.

After starting in 18 games for Alabama as a freshman, Bradley accepted a sixth-man role when he transferred to Arizona. He has done well coming off the bench, scoring 6.5 points on 46.5% shooting in 19.9 minutes per game.

“I told him after the game, I appreciate him hanging with it, and I appreciate him hanging with me,” Lloyd said. “He’s going to be an elite player. He’s going to end up being one of the Arizona greats at the end of the day.”

UP NEXT

Arizona will be seeking its first Elite Eight appearance since 2015.

YOU'VE BEEN SELECTED

FOR OUR BEST OFFER ONLY 25¢ for 5 months

Unlimited Digital Access.

cancel anytime.