Arizona 88, Notre Dame 71
The West Region semifinal opened at a sprinter's pace, but fifth-seeded Notre Dame couldn't keep up. Spurred by a 22-3 first-half run, the top-seeded Arizona Wildcats rolled to a dominating 88-71 win over the Fighting Irish.
"It was obvious in the early going that it was going to be a track meet," Arizona Coach Lute Olson said. "We shot the well, they shot the ball well. Then all of a sudden, it seemed like theirs weren't going."
The Wildcats (28-3) shot 47.4 percent from the field, and 50 percent from three-point range. For the first time in four games, Wildcats senior Jason Gardner found his touch at the offensive end, scoring a team-high 19 points. His performance was telling: Arizona has not lost a game all season when Gardner has shot 50 percent or better.
Four other Wildcats finished in double figures, including Luke Walton, who netted 16 points, Channing Frye, who put up 14 points to go with his 12 rebounds, and Hassan Adams, who came off the bench to score 14.
Notre Dame (29-5) started the game shooting well, but once the Irish fell behind, they struggled at both ends of the floor.
Freshman forward Torin Francis was the only highlight on the Irish's offense, scoring 25 points on 10 of 11 shots, 14 points above his season average. Notre Dame's other three go-to men -- seniors Matt Carroll and Dan Miller, and sophomore Chris Thomas -- scored a combined 42 points, hitting a disappointing 14 of 41 from the field.
"When we push the ball on offense, it gets teams tired," Walton said. "And then if we can keep up the defensive intensity, that's when we go on our runs. I think they got a little tired, and we kept it on them."
Arizona broke the game open with 12 minutes 11 seconds remaining in the first half. Coming out of a timeout down 26-25, the Wildcats turned it on. Adams scored a pair of layups and Rick Anderson dropped in one of his own.
Notre Dame Coach Mike Brey called a timeout. It didn't help. After a Francis dunk brought the Irish within three, Arizona went on a 16-1 run.
Arizona had 50 points with 2:44 left in the half, and left the floor at the break up 53-40.
"We took some quick ones, but you know what?" Brey said. "We were going to have to shoot it fearlessly to stay with this basketball team. But some of those quick shots turned into transition buckets, and that really hurt us."
The Irish's Thomas struggled to describe Arizona's first-half run, unable to finish a sentence while deciding who to talk about.
"When you've got a guy like Gardner leading the break," he said. "And Walton is a big-time player. Even their contributions off the bench. . . . When you give a team like Arizona that much confidence and that much time to run the break and use their athleticism, it's hard to stop."
It was a disappointing end to Notre Dame's first round-of-16 appearance since 1987. Still, though saddened by the loss, Thomas took some solace in the Irish's accomplishments this season.
"The bar has been raised," he said. "You have to take into consideration that Arizona has been here 15 straight years. We've been here three. I think there's a lot for us to take away from this."