Notre Dame dominated the court Thursday, knocking off Cincinnati. The Irish looked as good as ever in the first half, then blew it up in the second half to stretch their lead to 18 in their victory

Ben Hansbrough led a brutally efficient Notre Dame attack with 23 points and the fourth-ranked Fighting Irish dismantled one of the nation’s best defenses Thursday night in an 89-51 quarterfinal rout of No. 25 Cincinnati in the Big East tournament.

The league’s player of the year had plenty of help.

Carleton Scott scored 18 points and Tim Abromaitis had 17 for the Irish (26-5), who have already won more games than in any other season under longtime coach Mike Brey.

Sporting its highest national ranking since December 1980, second-seeded Notre Dame rolls into the semifinals Friday night against third-seeded Louisville or No. 11 seed Marquette having won five straight games and 12 of its last 13 overall.

Dion Dixon scored 15 points and Yancy Gates, coming off a career-best 25 in a second-round win over South Florida, managed 12 for Cincinnati. But the duo got very little help.

The Bearcats (25-8) shot just 32.8 percent from the field and were nearly as bad from the foul line, going 8 for 17. They went the final 7:25 without scoring.

Cincinnati wasn’t much better on defense, despite coming into the game allowing just 58.6 points per game – tops in the Big East and fourth-best in the nation.

Notre Dame had eclipsed that point total with 14 minutes left, then matched the most points Cincinnati had allowed all season – in an overtime win against Providence – when it went ahead 81-51 on Hansbrough’s layup with 4:22 remaining.

Notre Dame wound up shooting 56.1 percent from the floor, doing damage from everywhere on the court. The Irish went 9 of 19 from beyond the 3-point arc and outmuscled Cincinnati to the tune of 40 points in the paint.

And it was like that the entire way.

Notre Dame went ahead in the opening minute and never trailed again, pushing its lead to double figures for the first time at 31-19 on Scott’s 3-pointer with 6:06 left in the opening half. The lead was 40-30 at halftime.

Cincinnati managed to match the Irish basket for basket early in the second half and was still within 49-39 on Rashad Bishop‘s jumper with 16:40 left.

But the Irish kept scoring when the Bearcats finally stopped, going on a 17-4 run that covered the next 6 minutes. Notre Dame wound up scoring on its first 11 offensive possessions, the first missed opportunity not coming until more than 7 minutes were gone. The Irish scored on their next two trips down the floor after that as the lead swelled to 68-43.

Cincinnati lost to the Fighting Irish in their only other meeting, on Jan. 19 in South Bend, where the Bearcats rallied from 14 down at halftime to within five in the closing minutes.

This time, Notre Dame stepped on the accelerator and kept pulling away.

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