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Waltons still haunted by Notre Dame

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Notre Dame was a dirty word growing up in Luke Walton's household.

His father, Bill, was a senior in 1974 when the Fighting Irish ended UCLA's 88-game winning streak with a 71-70 victory in South Bend.

"He talks about it all the time; he says that game ruined his life," the younger Walton said, smiling.

So a bit of family pride might be on the line when top-seeded Arizona (27-3) plays fifth-seeded Notre Dame (24-9) in the NCAA West Regional semifinals Thursday night. No. 3 seed Duke (26-6) and No. 2 seed Kansas (27-7) play the second game.

Of course, avenging the outcome of a game played when he wasn't even born isn't a priority for Luke Walton, a senior who also wasn't around for Arizona's last national championship in 1997.

"To me, none of that has anything to do with the game coming up," he said. "We're confident, we feel good about ourselves. We've had a solid year, and now it's down to the Sweet 16. We're healthy, we're focused, and I think we're in great shape to move on."

What Walton would really enjoy is beating the Irish and then playing Kansas in the regional final Saturday. The Wildcats and Jayhawks have already met once this season, when Arizona won 91-74 after rallying from 20 points down at Kansas on Jan. 25.

The Wildcats are still around because Walton grabbed the rebound after Gonzaga's Blake Stepp missed to end a 96-96 double overtime victory in the second round last week.

"Our confidence is extremely high after that game," senior Rick Anderson said.

The Irish survived two close games in Indianapolis last week to reach the final 16 for the first time since 1987. They edged Wisconsin-Milwaukee 70-69, then upset fourth-seeded Illinois 68-60.

Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said his team is unfazed by its presence among three of college basketball's most successful programs.

"Our guys have been living that for a while," Brey said. "I think you almost kind of relish it a little bit. It's a good position for us to be in, to play fearlessly and go after it. When we've been in that position, we've played pretty well."

The Irish stumbled before the NCAA tournament began, losing four of five games, including a first-round defeat against St. John's in the Big East tournament.

"I don't know if our sense of urgency was great at that stretch," Brey said. "We raced to the top 10 real quick in December and of course, these other programs out here have been accustomed to living that life for a while.

"At the end of the season, when a win against us was a big win for Connecticut to improve their NCAA tournament seed or a Rutgers to hang their hat on at the end of the season, I don't know if our kids really understood that territory," he said.

One thing Brey has made sure the Irish understand is Arizona's ability to go on major scoring streaks. The Wildcats have used double-figure scoring runs to break open games six times this season.

"We're going to have to be able to slow that up a little bit, weather that," he said. "We're also going to have to get the ball out of bounds and come right back down the floor like we did in the first half against Illinois and answer back."

The Wildcats average 85.4 points; the Irish score 79.4 points a game.

"It's going to be a very entertaining game, because Notre Dame likes to play at a very fast tempo," Arizona coach Lute Olson said. "We're an uptempo team, so there's going to be a lot of action."