Notre Dame's march through March is picking up speed.
Demetrius Jackson scored 20 points and the third-seeded Irish dominated Wichita State, 81-70, in the Midwest Regional semifinals on Thursday night to advance to the Elite Eight for the first time in 36 years.
The Irish (32-5) shot 75% (18 of 24) in the second half, easily pulling away from the seventh-seeded Shockers (30-5) after Wichita State took its first and only lead on a layup by Darius Carter early in the second half. 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 top-seeded Kentucky, a 78-39 winner over West Virginia, on Saturday night with a Final Four spot on the line.
Fred VanVleet led Wichita State with 25 points but the Shockers simply couldn't keep up with the sharp-shooting Irish.
The Shockers appeared ready to take control after climbing out of a 13-point deficit to go up 38-37 on Carter's basket with 16:37 to go. Jackson knocked down a three-pointer to put the Irish back in front and Wichita State — eyeing a rematch with the Wildcats in the regional final after Kentucky ended the Shockers' perfect season last spring — couldn't respond.
Notre Dame didn't give them a chance.
Once Grant decided to become a distributor after missing his all five of his first-half shots, the Irish soared. Notre Dame hit eight straight during a 38-18 surge that left Wichita State reeling pushed 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.
Carter had 19 points and eight rebounds for the Shockers but guard Ron Baker had just nine points and went scoreless in the second half. Wichita State said it had the firepower 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. One of the nation's most efficient offensive teams advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2003 by clamping down at the other end of the court. One key stop late avoided a bracket-busting upset at the hands of the Huskies and an emphatic block by Connaughton just before the buzzer helped Notre Dame fend off the Bulldogs in overtime.
The win over Butler came just hours after coach Mike 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. Notre Dame picked Wichita State apart in the early going. The Irish hit eight of their first 10 shots and led by as many as 13 points before the Shockers settled in behind Carter, Baker and VanVleet, who long ago grew accustomed to performing in the unique crucible the tournament provides.
VanVleet scored Wichita State's final seven points of the first half to pull within 33-30.