March 18, 1989: No. 1 Arizona Basketball defeats No. 9 Clemson in the second round of the NCAA Tournament

Arizona and Clemson have been on this stage before, and it ended really well for the Wildcats.

Lute Olson
Lute Olson / Stephen Dunn/GettyImages
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First round

In the West Region's Round of 64, No. 1 overall seed Arizona drew No. 16 Robert Morris (21-9, 12-4 in NEC). Meanwhile, Clemson drew No. 8 seed Saint Mary's (25-5, 12-2 in WCAC). The Wildcats laid the boom on the Colonials and won by 34 points in the 94-60 decision, and the Tigers beat the Gaels — albeit not nearly in as convincing of a fashion — 83-70.

Arizona vs. Clemson in the 1989 Round of 32

The two schools winning in the opening round set up a second-round David vs. Goliath showdown in Boise, with the Wildcats playing the role of the behemoth. Despite the odds not being in the Tigers' favor, they hung around for almost half of the first period.

It didn't last long, though, as Arizona rattled off 16 straight unanswered points in nearly 9.5 minutes of game time to take a commanding lead that they never looked back from. When halftime rolled around, Arizona held a 44-35 advantage. The 'Cats came out of the locker room and proceeded to drop 50 more points on the Tigers' heads while holding them to a lower scoring output than in the first half. The game ended 94-68, and the Tigers were sent home tails tucked.

The great Sean Elliott led the way for Arizona on the court with a game-high 25 points, and he tacked on six rebounds and two assists. Three other Wildcats — Matt Muehlebach (19), Jed Buechler (15), and Anthony Cook (14) — also reached double figures. They were able to outlast Clemson's pair of 20-plus point scorers in Elden Campbell (24) and Derrick Forrest (21) due to all but one of the other Clemson players scoring 4 or fewer points and the turnover margin sitting at 22-9 in Arizona's favor.

Aftermath

In the Sweet Sixteen against No. 4 seed UNLV, the Wildcats fell 1 point short in a crushing 68-67 loss The dreams of returning to the Elite Eight or beyond for two consecutive season would have to wait a few more years until the 1997 and 1998 Tournaments. Regardless, Arizona continued to find success on the hardwood. The Wildcats became a staple for every March Madness for the next four decades, where they have only missed five tournaments in the 41 years since Olson's hiring.

Clemson, on the other hand, hasn't been so much of a powerhouse. In the 40 years since Ellis was first hired, Clemson has been more of a recurring face in the NIT and has made 14 appearances compared to 12 appearances in the NCAA Tournament. This time span also includes 12 seasons with no postseason appearances at all, which paints Arizona's four seasons with no postseason and sole NIT appearance in 2012 in a much better light.

That's not to say Clemson hasn't found their niche; they just have long been better known for their football. The 2024 matchup against the Tigers is poised to be a slugfest between two teams with extremely deep rosters littered with all-conference nods. A win is never guaranteed in March, but Arizona will look to channel the past iterations of Wildcats and move to 3-0 all-time against the Tigers and 2-0 in the postseason.

More March Madness:

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