March 22, 2003
By DAN GELSTON
Associated Press Writer
INDIANAPOLIS – With all those 3-pointers falling, Notre Dame coach Mike Brey told his players to keep hoisting them up.
Now the Fighting Irish are headed to the regional semifinals for the first time in 16 years.
Dan Miller matched a career high with 23 points as Notre Dame moved into the round of 16 with a 68-60 win over Illinois on Saturday in the West Regional.
“We were running and firing and I did not want to stop us because we were going for it,” said Brey, who celebrated his 44th birthday with a big win.
Notre Dame will travel to Anaheim, Calif., to play the winner of the Arizona-Gonzaga game.
Chris Thomas added 17 points for the fifth-seeded Irish, who had not advanced this far in the NCAAs since 1987 under coach Digger Phelps. That year, they were eliminated in the regional semifinals by North Carolina.
“This is huge for our program,” Brey said. “In the summer we talked about playing on the second weekend. I’m happy this group set a goal and achieved it.”
It was a disappointing second-round exit for fourth-seeded Illinois (25-7), the Big Ten tournament champions. Conference player of the year Brian Cook had 19 points and 16 rebounds.
The Fighting Illini trailed by 13 at halftime but cut it to six with 1:45 left after Deron Williams’ tip in. They didn’t score another basket.
Coach has been telling me to step up when it’s necessary and take control because I have a lot of game experience and I’ve been far in the tournament.Dan Miller
Williams went end-to-end after a steal but missed the layup, and Chris Quinn’s two free throws with 27 seconds left sealed the victory.
The Irish (24-9) lost in the second round the last two years – without Miller.
He shot 5-of-7 from long range as Notre Dame set a school tournament record with 13 3-pointers. The Irish were 13-for-24 from beyond the arc, topping their previous tournament high of 10 set last year against Charlotte.
“When the big guys played off me, I shot it. When they came up on me, I tried to drive by them,” Miller said. “When I got that stretch going, they were playing off me so I just pulled the trigger on them.”
Miller spent his first three years at Maryland and was a key reserve when the Terrapins reached the Final Four in 2001. But he had started all 34 games as a sophomore and didn’t like his new role on the bench.
So Miller transferred to Notre Dame and sat out a year. He spent his hiatus taking part in personal workouts and adding some bulk to his 6-foot-8 frame.
Now, it’s all paying off.
“Coach has been telling me to step up when it’s necessary and take control because I have a lot of game experience and I’ve been far in the tournament,” Miller said. “Today was one of those situations where I had a big chance to step up and I did.”
Chris Thomas shoots over Illinois defenders Brian Cook and Nick Smith in the first half of an NCAA West Regional second-round game in Indianapolis.
The Irish came out shooting 3-pointers on almost every possession. Their first three field goals were 3s and they started 6-for-11 from long range. Miller sank his first five 3s, and the Irish went 11-for-16 in the half. Thomas and Matt Carroll each hit three from beyond the arc.
Carroll, playing on a sprained left ankle, scored 11 points. Torin Francis grabbed 14 rebounds for Notre Dame.
“The way they came out and played in the first half, no one would have been able to beat them,” Illinois coach Bill Self said. “We got a lot of looks. They just didn’t fall today.”
Illinois never led and had trouble getting into its offense early. Cook missed five of his first six shots, and the Illini shot only 38 percent.
“I took the same shots that I have all year,” Cook said. “Usually they go in, but today they didn’t.”
Dee Brown added 14 points for Illinois.
Notre Dame built a 47-34 lead, but struggled to start the second half. The Irish missed seven of eight shots, allowing Illinois to pull within eight.
Thomas and Miller combined for eight straight points midway through the half to push the lead back to 14.