Midwest Region: Notre Dame races by Wichita State
Cleveland — Momentum sagging and Wichita State surging, Mike Brey called time out and offered his Notre Dame players a reminder.
There was no screaming. No frantic scribbling of Xs-and-Os. That's not Brey's style. Or his team's either.
"I said 'Fellas, been here before,'" Brey said. "Little did I know it was going to be a lightning strike, a flat-out lightning strike."
One that carried the Irish all the way to the brink of the Final Four.
Demetrius Jackson scored 20 points and third-seeded Notre Dame blitzed the Shockers in the second half of a surprisingly easy 81-70 victory Thursday night in the Midwest Regional semifinal to advance to the Elite Eight for the first time in 36 years.
The Irish (32-5) shot 75 percent (18 of 24) over the final 20 minutes, overwhelming the seventh-seeded Shockers (30-5) with a barrage of 3-pointers, expert cuts to the basket and enough fancy passing to fill an And-One mixtape.
The 38-18 burst that turned a tight game into something else entirely came after Wichita State took its first and only lead on a layup by Darius Carter with 16:37 to go. Jackson drilled a 3-pointer on Notre Dame's next trip down then added another one moments later.
After that, the Irish were gone. The lead ballooned to as many as 19 points before the Shockers settled themselves. By then, it was far too late.
"I've never seen a 1-point lead get out of hand so quickly," Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said. "It did tonight because of their fire power."
Pat Connaughton added 16 points and 10 rebounds for Notre Dame and Jerian Grant had nine points and 11 assists as the Irish won their eighth straight.
Notre Dame will play either unbeaten Kentucky or West Virginia on Saturday night with a Final Four spot on the line.
Fred VanVleet led Wichita State with 25 points and Carter had 22 points while playing on the home court of distant cousin LeBron James but the Shockers simply couldn't keep up with the sharp-shooting Irish.
Wichita State appeared ready to take control after surviving an early first-half barrage then Carter's layup put them ahead. The Shockers — eyeing a rematch with the Wildcats in the regional final after Kentucky ended the Shockers' perfect season last spring — were caught flat-footed as Notre Dame put on a show.
Once Grant decided to become a distributor after missing all five of his first-half shots, the Irish soared. Notre Dame hit eight straight shots at one point to propel the Irish to the Elite Eight for the first time since 1979, when Bill Laimbeer, Orlando Woolridge and Kelly Tripucka fell to Magic Johnson and eventual national champion Michigan State.
"It's like blood in the water, you feel it and you want to keep getting stops so you can keep running," Connaughton said. "It's something you can't get enough of."
Ron Baker had just nine points and went scoreless in the second half. Wichita State said it had the punch to keep pace with Notre Dame. The Shockers did for 25 minutes, after that the ACC Tournament champions took flight.
The Irish survived two tough opening weekend games, beating Northeastern and Butler by a combined seven points. The win over Butler came just hours after Brey lost his mother Betty to a heart attack at age 84. He spent Sunday celebrating her remarkable life — she was a member of the 1956 U.S. Olympic swim team — before returning to the cocoon of his resilient team.
Notre Dame rebounded from the worst season of Brey's 15 years in South Bend last winter — a messy 15-17 slog — with a sizzling sprint through March that included wins over Duke and North Carolina on its way to an unlikely ACC Tournament triumph down the street from Tobacco Road.
Wichita State had no such worries last weekend. The Shockers raced past Indiana then dominated in-state rival Kansas, a victory more than two decades in the making after the Jayhawks spent years building a nonconference schedule that did not include the blossoming mid-major a couple of hours away.
Baker admitted toppling Kansas was like reaching Cloud Nine but added it doesn't sound so good when Cloud 10 is two steps away.
The Shockers didn't even get halfway there.
Kentucky 78, West Virginia 39: Trey Lyles scored 14 points, Andrew Harrison added 13 and the unbeaten Wildcats, chasing history and a ninth national title, rolled into the Elite Eight.
Kentucky (37-0) advanced to Saturday's regional final to play third-seeded Notre Dame.
With stunning ease, the Wildcats built a 26-point lead in the first half over the Mountaineers (25-10), who led the nation in steals and figured their full-court press would at least bother Kentucky into some turnovers. West Virginia shot only 24.1 percent (13 of 54), including 2 of 15 from 3-point range.
West Virginia didn't eclipse 20 points until the 11:41 mark of the second half.