By DAN GELSTON
Associated Press Writer
In addition to solid shooting and versatility, Dan Miller brought some extras to Notre Dame: NCAA tournament experience and an attitude.
“He’s made us tough,” coach Mike Brey said. “He plays with a scowl on his face. The guys get on him about it. It’s like he’s mad at the world. That’s put our group on edge a little bit.”
Maybe that’s just what the Irish (24-9) needed to advance to the round of the 16 for the first time since 1987.
Notre Dame – seeded fifth in the tough West Regional – needed a missed layup at the buzzer to avoid a loss to Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the opener, then used a school tournament-record 13 3-pointers against Illinois on Saturday.
Now Notre Dame faces top-seeded Arizona on Thursday with a chance to get to a regional final, something the Irish last did all the way back in 1979.
“I know we’re not satisfied, and I’m not satisfied yet,” Miller said. “We’re going to try our best to get as far as we can.”
Miller shouldn’t be satisfied. He’s been here before.
After high school, he went to the University of Maryland, becoming only the second player at that school to appear in every game as a freshman. The next year he started all 34 games, averaging 8.5 points.
But as a junior year, Miller was sent to the bench and had to watch Maryland’s 2001 Final Four run as a reserve. Realizing playing time would be just as scarce as a senior, Miller decided to transfer.
That’s when his relationship with Brey became a factor. Brey coached Miller’s older brother, Greg, at Delaware.
Goodbye, College Park. Hello, South Bend.
“I was just confident it would be a good fit for me,” Miller said. “Having Coach Brey here just sealed the deal. I knew (Notre Dame player) Matt Carroll from high school. I knew we had a good group here.”
Brey never hesitated when he had a chance to get Miller, even for only one season. Miller brought leadership to a program that had lost three seniors.
“Miller is a great investment in our program,” Brey said. “He’s been to the tournament. He’s been to the Final Four. I thought him talking about that in our locker room made a big difference.”
Miller has adjusted just fine to his new team. He hit five straight 3-pointers against fourth-seeded Illinois and tied a career high with 23 points.
In the regular season, Miller started all 31 games and was third on Notre Dame with a 13.8-point scoring average.
It hurt a little to watch his former teammates at Maryland win the national championship last season, but Miller made the most of his year off. He packed some muscle on his 6-foot-8 frame and never stopped talking about what it takes to win.
The Irish must have been listening.
Three straight victories over ranked teams moved them into the top 10 in the AP poll. Notre Dame stumbled a bit late, losing four of five to end the regular season, but regained its footing in the NCAA tournament.
With heads shaved by guard Chris Thomas – who’s scored 54 points in two games – as a symbol of team unity, the Irish are playing well at the right time.
Thomas has been a big reason, never hesitating to take an open jump shot or creating one off the dribble. Thomas sank three 3-pointers against the Illini, transforming the Irish from a respectable long-range team to a serious one.
Notre Dame will need more great play from Thomas and Miller if it’s going to get past Arizona.
“We’ll take some bad ones, but it’s a big part of our offense,” Brey said. “There are nights when they don’t go in and we’ve got to go inside. We’ve got to make shots like that for us to win games at this level.”