INDIANAPOLIS (Ticker) -- Fifth-seeded Notre Dame can earn its elusive trip to the "Sweet 16" of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday afternoon when it meets No. 4 Illinois in the second round of the West Region.
Notre Dame (23-9) is making its sixth NCAA appearance since its last trip to the regional semifinals in 1987. The Fighting Irish had to survive a rough first-round tussle, earning a 70-69 victory over Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Chris Thomas scored 27 points and freshman Torin Francis collected 23 points and 14 rebounds as Notre Dame survived when Wisconsin-Milwaukee's Clay Tucker missed a layup with two seconds left.
Francis scored the game's biggest basket with a layup that gave Notre Dame the lead for good with 32 seconds to go. The Fighting Irish survived a foul-plagued night from leading scorer Matt Carroll, who scored two points in only 14 minutes.
Carroll suffered a sprained knee and his status is uncertain for Saturday.
It was just the second victory in six games for Notre Dame and the first time it held an opponent below 70 points since February 18.
Illinois (25-6) is looking to reach the regionals for the third time in as many years under coach Bill Self. The Fighting Illini advanced with a 65-60 triumph over Western Kentucky on Thursday.
Big East Player of the Year Brian Cook collected 17 points and 10 rebounds as Illinois made some big plays down the stretch to hold off the Hilltoppers. Freshman Dee Brown added 16 points and eight assists for the Illini, who came up with 11 steals.
This is the first time the Fighting Illini have faced a Big East opponent since a victory at Seton Hall last season.
The teams have not met since Illinois posted an 87-84 victory on January 25, 1973. The Illini hold a 26-12 lead in a series that was contested between 1922-73.
The winner advances to Anaheim, California to face Arizona or Gonzaga on Thursday.