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Updated: Saturday, March 22, 2003 8:41 PM EST
NCAA BASKETBALL RECAP
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(5) Notre Dame 68, (4) Illinois 60
NOTRE DAME FIGHTING IRISH
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
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ILLINOIS FIGHTING ILLINI
Illinois Fighting Illini
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INDIANAPOLIS (Ticker) -- Dan Miller is justifying his decision to come to Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish are justifying their newfound place among the elite teams in college basketball.

Miller made his first five 3-pointers and scored a career-high 23 points as fifth-seeded Notre Dame advanced to the "Sweet 16" for the first time since 1987 with a 68-60 triumph over No. 4 Illinois in the West Region.

Notre Dame (24-9) lost four of five entering the NCAA Tournament and survived a close call in Thursday's 70-69 triumph over Wisconsin-Milwaukee. But the Fighting Irish rode its lethal perimeter attack for 11 3-pointers in the first half to take control of their first matchup with the Fighting Illini since 1973.

"We're going to the 'Sweet 16,' but I know we're not satisfied and I'm not satisfied yet," Miller said. "We're going to try our best to get as far as we can."

Miller transferred from Maryland for his senior season and missed the Terrapins' run to the national championship. He was jeered earlier in the season in a visit to Maryland, but displayed some of his experience from reaching the Final Four two seasons ago.

"The main reason I came here was coach (Mike) Brey," Miller said. "My brother (Greg) played for him in Delaware. Just coming from Maryland, I had great experience there and I had great friendships there."

Brey, who celebrated his 44th birthday, felt that Miller's 11 games of NCAA Tournament experience is a factor.

"Dan Miller has made us an overall tougher team," Brey said. "No question, he has talked in our locker room on what it takes to advance. He has helped us take the next step."

Miller and Carroll started the game with 3-pointers for a 6-0 lead as Notre Dame never trailed. Miller made all five 3-pointers for 17 points in the first half as the Fighting Irish built a 47-34 halftime advantage.

Illinois (25-7) got within 66-60 with 1:29 remaining on a tip-in by freshman Deron Williams. The Fighting Illini got back the ball and Williams airballed on a 3-pointer with 42 seconds to go.

"Today we didn't finish when we needed to," Illinois coach Bill Self said. "We had plenty of looks, but we didn't play them the way we should have."

The Fighting Irish will meet Arizona in Anaheim, California next week.

Chris Thomas scored 17 points and Matt Carroll added 11 despite playing on a sprained knee. Freshman Torin Francis provided a physical presence on the glass with 14 rebounds.

Led by Miller, Notre Dame shot 69 percent (11-of-16) from beyond the arc in the first half and made 13-of-24 for the game.

"It's important to get a good start in these types of games, especially against a team like Illinois," Brey said.

The Illini were unable to match the Irish's firepower and shot just 35 percent (22-of-63). They had a difficult time from beyond the arc, connecting on 5-of-17 attempts.

Big Ten Player of the Year Brian Cook collected 19 points and 16 rebounds, but was defended well by Francis and made just 6-of-23 shots. Freshman point guard netted 14 points on 5-of-14 shooting.

"In the first half, they were trying to get us into a big man's game and it wasn't really effective," Francis said.

"I took the same shots I have all year," said Cook, who shot plenty of jumpers. "Usually they go in, but today they didn't."

Illinois' Nick Smith made a layup to cut the deficit to 21-20 just past the midway point of the first half. Miller responded with back-to-back 3-pointers to trigger a 16-4 burst and capped it with another shot from beyond the arc for a 13-point advantage.

The Irish came out cold from beyond the arc to start the second half, but the Illini did not take advantage. Thomas converted a layup and Miller had a pair of baskets as Notre Dame scored six straight points for their largest lead at 58-44.

"We were just so excited last night to come out here and play and we did a tremendous job on the defensive end and on the backboard," Thomas said. "We just played with a lot of energy."

Carroll's 3-pointer with 9:52 left was Notre Dame's first of the second half and supplied a 61-49 cushion.

Thomas, who has been erratic at times this season, made only 2-of-9 second-half shots but limited his turnovers for the game to three. His backup, Chris Quinn, added six points.


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