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LOS ANGELES—By playing the first game of the NCAA Tournament’s second round, Arizona got back from Salt Lake City by Saturday night and got to take a full day off before starting preparations for the Sweet 16. By the time they flew out of Tucson on Tuesday the Wildcats had been home almost three full days.

Compare that to Clemson, who after upsetting Baylor in Memphis on Sunday evening didn’t arrive home until 3:30 a.m. Monday. Just over 12 hours later the Tigers were back on a cross-country flight to LA, and their practice Tuesday showed the effects of all that travel.

“We practiced, but it wasn’t easy,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. “Just trying to get our legs back, just get used to the time change and all of that. I’m optimistic we’ll be ready to go tomorrow, but it’s been a quick turnaround, that’s for sure. A lot of sleepless nights for the staff trying to get ready.”

When second-seeded Arizona (27-8) faces No. 6 Clemson (23-11) in the West Region semifinals on Thursday at Crypto.com Arena it will be doing so with the same kind of freshness it had going into the NCAA tourney. Tommy Lloyd considered falling in the Pac-12 semifinals a bit of a blessing, and the extra time to reset for the postseason paid off with a pair of double-digit wins last week, and he thinks that benefit could be there again.

“I think any time you can try to find an advantage, you try to wrap your arms around it,” Lloyd said. “I feel like, for this time of the year, we’re pretty healthy, we’re pretty rested, which is a little bit of a luxury. But just because you had an extra day or a few extra hours doesn’t mean you have a significant advantage this time of year because the other team’s really good. I mean, they’re really, really good. They’re playing for something as well.

“It was good to get back, catch our breath a little bit, and have kind of a normal week of preparation for us because we’re used to playing on Thursday and Saturday is basically what we do in our conference. All in all, yeah, I’d say we feel like we’re in a pretty good place.”

While Clemson was trying not to blow a 15-point lead with six minutes left on Sunday, UA players were chilling at home scouting their opponent live.

“We got to sit back and watch the game, study them,” said Caleb Love, who averaged 14 points in three games against Clemson with a 2-1 record.

This is Arizona’s second Sweet 16 in the last three seasons. Oumar Ballo and Pelle Larsson are back from that squad, but that only begins to chronicle the Wildcats’ NCAA experience.

Love and Keshad Johnson have played in the last two national championship games, respectively, with Love’s 160 points the most by any active played in the NCAA Tournament. Jaden Bradley reached the Sweet 16 last year with No. 1 overall seed Alabama, and all told the UA roster entered March with 29 games of NCAA experience.

Clemson had seven, with three of those coming via transfer Joe Girard III’s four seasons at Syracuse. Girard is the only player on the roster to appear in the Sweet 16.

Brownell said he’s told his team to “don’t just be happy to be here,” pointing to a message he gave the players after the Tigers had lost six of nine after an 11-1 start.

“At one point I told our team, I think we were 4-6 in the ACC, and I said, ‘guys, we need to understand something. I think some of you guys think we’re the (11-1) team. Right now we’re the 4-6 team. If we go 4-6 again, we won’t be playing in the NCAA Tournament.’ I said that would be a shame because of what you did the first two months of the year, but also because I think we’re good enough to go to the Final Four.”

While favored, Arizona is the team that has all the pressure on it. Clemson has only made the Elite Eight once, in 1980, while the Wildcats have been one win away from the Final Four four times since last making it in 2001. That’s not to mention many other teams that seemed good enough to make the Final Four only to fall short, like in 2022 as a No. 1 seed.

“We had a really good team that year, and we played a really, really tough Houston team, and the TCU team, too,” Larrsson said. “I think any given night these are games are gonna be really close. But having that experience in close games, it really helps. Three guys have been to the Final Four, JB was on the No. 1 team last year, so it feels like we’re more mature and ready, for sure.”

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