BUFFALO, N.Y. - When you've been to the Final Eight the last two years, you don't want your career to end in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament against a 12 seed.
"I remember growing up as a kid people telling me that was the upset game," said Notre Dame's Steve Vasturia, a 6-6 guard from St. Joseph's Prep who's now scored 1,389 points at the next level. "But we weren't really worried about that."
Well, maybe just a little at the end. The Fighting Irish (26-9) advanced with a 60-58 West Regional win Thursday afternoon at KeyBank Center over Princeton (23-7), which hadn't lost since Dec. 20. The Tigers, who trailed by 11 early in the second half, had an open three-pointer to tie it up with just under 20 seconds to go. And a contested trey that would have put them in front at 0:03. It was Vasturia who got the clinching rebound and then made the front end of a one-and-one with less than a second showing.
"It's not going to be pretty all the time in the NCAA Tournament," said Vasturia, who finished with 10 points on 12 shots and a game-best eight boards in 37 minutes, which tied for team high. "Every team you play is good. At the end of the day, we made enough plays that we needed to. All you want is a chance to play another day. It doesn't matter how you got there."
It was the 97th win for the three Irish seniors, matching the class of 2013 for most in program history. They'll get a chance to own the record by themselves on Saturday against West Virginia (27-8), an 86-80 winner over Bucknell.
Notre Dame, which lost to Duke in the ACC Tournament final, averages nine threes a game. It went 4-for-11 from the arc, to Princeton's 8-for-31.
"This might be the hardest (game to win in the tourney)," Vasturia said. "Coach (Mike) Brey talked about that afterward. Two years ago, we played, like, a three-point game against Northeastern. Last year was a really good game against Michigan. If you hold a team to under 30 from three, you're usually going to come out on top. That was kind of the goal."
His father John played football and baseball at Penn.
"He's not a Princeton fan," Vasturia said, smiling. "I'm sure he wore his Ivy League championship ring (from the early 1980s) today . . .
"Not many people get a lot of opportunities to play in the NCAA Tournament. My parents have been great traveling around the country to get to games. I can't be more appreciative of them, especially as a senior. I just want to keep this going as long as we can. This group's been through a lot. So we're confident. But we've seen the other side of it. When we were younger we lost a lot of close games, too.
"It goes by super fast. It feels like we were just playing in the Palestra or something."
That is now seven NCAA victories ago. And counting.