After sizzling in the Sweet 16, can Notre Dame burn Kentucky?

CLEVELAND — How do you beat top-seeded Kentucky?

Shooting the lights out would be a great first step — exactly the way Notre Dame did Thursday night en route to setting up a date with the unbeaten Wildcats on Saturday.

Maybe, just maybe, 3 seed Notre Dame can come close to repeating in the Midwest Region final what it did to 7 seed Wichita State in Thursday night’s semifinal. The Irish shot 24 shots in the second half and made 18 of them. They shot eight times from behind the 3-point line and made six of them.

Notre Dame came out hot, building a 13-point lead just over six minutes into the game. Just over three minutes into the second half, Wichita State had battled back to take a 38-37 lead.

That lead lasted all of 12 seconds.

Notre Dame kept firing. Notre Dame kept making. The decisive run started with consecutive bombs from Demetrius Jackson, but just about everybody got involved.

Aggressive, confident and attacking from both sides with four different players making 3-pointers, the Irish seized control. When Wichita State cut its deficit to six, the Irish answered. And kept answering. They stayed on the gas until they led by 19 with 4:36 left.

"This group is cruel, and I love it," Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. "It’s a great trait to have. They’re really cruel competitors. When they feel a little blood in the water, as Pat (Connaughton) said at one of the timeouts, they go for it. And I think that’s why they’re special and playing for a regional championship on Saturday."

Here’s what’s really scary: Jackson is probably the guy Wichita State wanted to shoot. He scored 20, Connaughton 16 and Steve Vasturia 15. Post man Zach Auguste benefited from the perimeter success and scored 16. Jerian Grant had 10 points and 10 assists and was completely in charge of the game.

The Irish made 17 of their first 21 shots in the second half.

"They just shot the ball so well, shot the cover off of it in reality," Wichita State’s Ron Baker said. "I’ve never seen a team shoot it like they did today."

It was the kind of effort it will take to beat Kentucky. We’ll see if it will be enough.

"Kentucky is a whole different bag of tricks with their size," Brey said.

Notre Dame has an impressive bag, too. It will take a total team effort, a bunch more big shots, that cruel attitude against a cruel, 37-0 opponent that’s three games from history.

"If you have a good passing team like we do, you can find enough good looks," Brey said.

Notre Dame had assists on 18 of its 30 baskets Thursday. For the season, the Irish are shooting 52 percent and better than 39 percent from beyond the arc. They average 79 points per game and came into the Wichita State game fourth nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.6-to-1) and fifth in fewest turnovers per game (9.4).

The Irish shot Wichita State woozy on Thursday. They kept playing fast, kept making the extra pass, kept making the open look — and making it look easy.

"Blood in the water," Connaughton said. "You can feel it."

For the first time since 1979, Notre Dame is in the Elite Eight. The biggest, nastiest shark of all awaits.

"I was thinking all day, I just don’t want it to end for this particular team because this group has been so energizing and so fun to be around with the two seniors (Grant and Connaughton) setting the tone," Brey said. "I’m sure whenever it ends I’ll be able to look back; it’s been an amazing season for us and when you add an ACC (tournament) championship, and who we went through on Tobacco Road, I don’t know if we’ve had a more special season in the history of our basketball program.

"But, God, I love that I get to go to practice (Friday) with this group."

And get a shot on Saturday to shoot down Kentucky’s unbeaten run.