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Wildcats' outburst crushes Irish

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Whenever Arizona needs a shot of confidence, the Wildcats put together one of their famous offensive outbursts. And that usually means game over.

Against Notre Dame on Thursday night, Arizona used a 22-3 run to take control after the Fighting Irish made 11 of their first 14 shots. The top-seeded Wildcats then cruised to an 88-71 victory and a spot in the West Regional final.

"I give ourself a big advantage when we're playing our best game," said senior Luke Walton, who had 16 points, seven rebounds and eight assists for the Wildcats.

For the seventh time this season, they used a double-digit scoring run to put away a game.

Arizona (28-3) will play Saturday against second-seeded Kansas, which beat Duke 69-65 in the other semifinal at Anaheim Arena.

The Wildcats are in the Round of Eight for the first time since 2001, when they lost to Duke in the national championship game.

Senior Jason Gardner scored 19 points, and Channing Frye and Hassan Adams added 14 points each. Frye and senior Rick Anderson grabbed 12 rebounds each.

"I'm so impressed with their older guys," Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. "They played with such a nice tempo, they don't panic and they're so skilled. It kind of makes the younger guys calm down and it was too much for us to handle."

The fifth-seeded Fighting Irish (24-10) had five victories over top-10 opponents — their most in one season — but their shooting didn't hold up against the nation's highest-scoring offense.

Freshman Torin Francis had 25 points on 10-of-11 shooting — more than double his average — and 10 rebounds to lead the Irish. Chris Thomas added 20 points.

The 17-point loss equaled Notre Dame's worst of the season and was its biggest NCAA tournament defeat since losing 89-56 to Kentucky in the 1958 Mideast Regional final.

"You have to take into consideration that Arizona has been 15 straight years, we've been here three straight years," Thomas said of the Irish's NCAA tourney appearances. "I think there's a lot for us to take away from this."

The Irish opened on a tear, hitting 11 of their first 14 shots, including five straight. Francis hit all eight of his attempts in the first 20 minutes.

"We were going to have to shoot it fearlessly to stay with this team, but some of those quick shots turned into transition baskets and that hurt us," Brey said. "We were going to have to score more than 71 points to make it interesting."

It was a fast-paced game between two teams that like to run, score and shoot 3-pointers. The Irish made 10 3-pointers — three each by Thomas and Matt Carroll and two by Dan Miller — and Arizona hit seven.

Neither team led by more than five points before Arizona's 22-3 spurt gave the Wildcats a 47-29 lead with 5:56 remaining in the first half.

"It seemed like they shot 85 percent from the floor in that stretch," Thomas said of Arizona's first-half run. "We took quick shots and that just triggered their transition offense. When you give a team like Arizona that much time to run their break, it's hard to stop."

There were eight lead changes and seven ties by halftime, which ended with Arizona ahead 53-40.

"It was obvious in the early going it was going to be a track meet," Arizona coach Lute Olson said. "Both teams came out ready to go. We shot the ball well, they shot the ball well, then all of a sudden, theirs weren't going and we continued to shoot the ball well."

The Wildcats scored 12 straight in the spurt, including the first baskets of the game by seniors Gardner and Walton, as the Irish finally cooled off. Carroll and Thomas missed 3-pointers, and Carroll tossed up consecutive airballs.

"We're no mystery as a team, we need a couple of those to go in," Brey said.

The Wildcats led 65-53 before going on a 16-3 run, keyed by Walton's six points, to finish off the Irish, who were in the final 16 for the first time since 1987.

"Nobody is crying in that locker room," Brey said. "We had a very good year."