Notre Dame used size and strength to wear down DePaul and breezed, 84-64, to the Midwest Regional championship in the NCAA basketball tournament yesterday.
The Irish were the last of the four teams to qualify for the national semi-finals Saturday in St. Louis. They will play Duke, a winner earlier in the day in the East, on Saturday afternoon. Arkansas, the West champion, will play Kentucky, the Mideast champion in the other semifinal.
The championship game will be Monday night, March 27.
"Our game Plan was simple," said Notre Dame Coach Digger Phelps, who finally got the Irish to the final four after seven years as their coach.
"The last time we played them we were a little complacent," Phelps said referring to an overtime loss to DePaul last month. "We felt today we had to go after them. They are a streaky team and I felt if we just stayed with our game, they'd get tired and I think that's what happened," Phelps said.
DePaul, which had a 14-game winning streak going into the game, is quicker than Notre Dame and used that quickness to mount an early 29-21 lead.
The Irish then started taking control and outscored the Blue Demons 16-4 in the last seven minutes of the first half to take a 37-33 lead.
The only points DePaul could get in that span came on a hook shot and two free throws by Dave Corzine.
Notre Dame, meanwhile, got six from Kelly Tripucka, who finished with 18 points and was named the regional tournament's most valuable player, and four from Bill Laimbeer - all from inside, while Bill Hanzlik, Dave Batton and Rich Branning made long jumpers.
DePaul made its one good run at the Irish early in the second half, an 11-0 spurt that moved the Demons, to a 44-39 lead with 15:39 left.
Corzine, a 6-foot-11, 250-pound center, who had 46 points in the semifinal against Louisville, had seven of the 11 points. He scored only four more points all day, however, and finished with 17.
Branning made a 15-footer, then Tripucka put in an offensive rebound to bring the Irish to within one point. Corzine scored inside to pull DePaul's lead back to three, but then Tripucka scored again after nabbing an offensive rebound and after a DePaul turn-over, he banked in a short jump shot for a 47-46 Irish lead with 11:48 to play.
Notre Dame run off an 11-0 spurt of its own two minutes later and also scored the game's last 10 points as DePaul wilted.
The Irsih outscored DePaul 47-31 and outrebounded the Demons 32-19 in the second half.
"We'came out in the second half and wore them down in the front line." Tripucka said "We just physically wore them down."
"There is no alibi, not the way they were rebounding," said DePaul Coach Ray Meyer. "They just took everything away from us. We just got beat.
"We got behind and then had to gamble to try and catch up and it didn't work. Notre Dame turned into a cash register and just keep ringing up the points."
DePaul doesn't have Notre Dame's depth and the Blue Demons' only big man, Corzino, was playing with a dislocated little finger on his left hand and was not as sharp as he was against Louisville.
Notre Dame alternated 6-8, 210 Bruce Flowers and 6-11, 250 Laimbeer on Corzine and made life miserable for him.
"A one-man team is not going to beat Notre Dame," Laimbeer said. "Our depth helped us a lot. We weren't worried about fouling him (Corzine) or anything. We were just as aggressive as we could be with him, pushing and holding and everything."
Corzine dominated the game with Louisville because the Cardinals tried to play in front of him on defense and DePaul just lobbed the ball into him for easy shots.
The Irish mixed things up, some-bounds, but Tripucka, Notre Dame's times playing in front, sometimes on the side and sometimes behind.
"But whenever he got the ball, we double-teamed him," Tripucka said, "and we shoved him around."
DePaul lost its composure when it found there wasn't much it could do to combat Notre Dame's aggessiveness.
"They started rushing things," Laimbeer said. "They'd come down court and look in to Corzine and see he was shut down and then force up a quick shot."
"Besides Corzine, the only other Blue Demon in double figures was Gary Garland with 18 points. The Irish had four players in double figures.