Irish beat Wichita State–advance to Elite 8 for first time since 1979


CLEVELAND—Momentum sagging and Wichita State surging, Mike Brey called time out and offered his Notre Dame players a reminder.There was no screaming. No frantic scribbling of Xs-and-Os. That’s not Brey’s style. Or his team’s either.One that carried the Irish all the way to the brink of the Final Four.Demetrius Jackson scored 20 points and third-seeded Notre Dame blitzed the Shockers in the second half of a surprisingly easy 81-70 victory Thursday night in the Midwest Regional semifinal to advance to the Elite Eight for the first time in 36 years.The Irish (32-5) shot 75 percent (18 of 24) over the final 20 minutes, overwhelming the seventh-seeded Shockers (30-5) with a barrage of 3-pointers, expert cuts to the basket and enough fancy passing to fill an And-One mixtape.The 38-18 burst that turned a tight game into something else entirely came after Wichita State took its first and only lead on a layup by Darius Carter with 16:37 to go. Jackson drilled a 3-pointer on Notre Dame’s next trip down then added another one moments later.After that, the Irish were gone. The lead ballooned to as many as 19 points before the Shockers settled themselves. By then, it was far too late.Pat Connaughton added 16 points and 10 rebounds for Notre Dame and Jerian Grant had nine points and 11 assists as the Irish won their eighth straight.Notre Dame will play top-ranked and unbeaten Kentucky on Saturday night with a Final Four spot on the line. The Wildcats beat West Virginia 78-39.Fred VanVleet led Wichita State with 25 points and Carter had 22 points while playing on the home court of distant cousin LeBron James but the Shockers simply couldn’t keep up with the sharp-shooting Irish.Wichita State appeared ready to take control after surviving an early first-half barrage then Carter’s layup put them ahead. The Shockers – eyeing a rematch with the Wildcats in the regional final after Kentucky ended the Shockers’ perfect season last spring – were caught flat-footed as Notre Dame put on a show.Once Grant decided to become a distributor after missing all five of his first-half shots, the Irish soared. Notre Dame hit eight straight shots at one point to propel the Irish to the Elite Eight for the first time since 1979, when Bill Laimbeer, Orlando Woolridge and Kelly Tripucka fell to Magic Johnson and eventual national champion Michigan State.Ron Baker had just nine points and went scoreless in the second half. Wichita State said it had the punch to keep pace with Notre Dame. The Shockers did for 25 minutes, after that the ACC Tournament champions took flight.The Irish survived two tough opening weekend games, beating Northeastern and Butler by a combined seven points. The win over Butler came just hours after Brey lost his mother Betty to a heart attack at age 84. He spent Sunday celebrating her remarkable life – she was a member of the 1956 U.S. Olympic swim team – before returning to the cocoon of his resilient team.Notre Dame rebounded from the worst season of Brey’s 15 years in South Bend last winter – a messy 15-17 slog – with a sizzling sprint through March that included wins over Duke and North Carolina on its way to an unlikely ACC Tournament triumph down the street from Tobacco Road.Wichita State had no such worries last weekend. The Shockers raced past Indiana then dominated in-state rival Kansas, a victory more than two decades in the making after the Jayhawks spent years building a nonconference schedule that did not include the blossoming mid-major a couple of hours away.Baker admitted toppling Kansas was like reaching Cloud Nine but added it doesn’t sound so good when Cloud 10 is two steps away.The Shockers didn’t even get halfway there.

14-0 run carries Ramblers past Seattle 63-48, advance to CBI Finals

Loyola-Chi. Ramblers logo

Earl Peterson and Devon Turk both scored 15 points and Loyola beat Seattle University 63-48 on Wednesday night in the semifinals of the College Basketball Invitational.Loyola (22-13) hosts Louisiana-Monroe in Game 1 of the CBI’s best-of-3 championship series on at Gentile Arena Monday.Peterson’s running one-hander from the right baseline tied the game 42-all with 5:46 remaining and triggered a 14-0 run for Loyola over the next 3:43. Peterson had six points in the run.Seattle, which led 34-29 with 12:10 to play, was outscored 34-14 down the stretch.William Powell had 12 points for the Redhawks (18-16) and Jadon Cohee added 10.The Ramblers haven’t been in any postseason tournament since the 1985 NCAA Tournament. It was Seattle’s first postseason appearance of any kind since 1969.

Flyers jump on flat Hawks early, win 4-1

PHILADELPHIA—Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, Ryan White and Michael Raffl scored goals to lead the Philadelphia Flyers to a 4-1 win over the Blackhawks on Wednesday night.Giroux had his 22nd goal for his first even-strength score at home this season. Steve Mason was stout again for the Flyers, finishing with 34 saves.Andrew Shaw scored for the Blackhawks.Flyers fans gave Blackhawks defenseman Kimmo Timonen a standing ovation during a video tribute for the returning defenseman who helped lead Philadelphia to the 2010 Stanley Cup final.Timonen returned to Philadelphia for the first time since he was traded to the Blackhawks in February for two draft picks. Timonen’s Philly career ended because of blood clots that sidelined him all season until he was traded.Timonen, who joined the Flyers in 2007, had said he would retire at the end of the season and wanted to go out with a playoff contender. Long out of the postseason picture, the Flyers granted his wish once he was cleared to skate.The four-time All-Star waved to the crowd and players on both sides tapped the ice with their sticks during a video tribute in the first period.

”Everything’s been unusual,” Timonen said before the game. ”I’m trying to find my game. It’s been a process the last three weeks. We have a really good team. Even if I play 10, 12 minutes a game, we win games. I have to remind myself the reason why I’m here. It’s not to play 20 minutes, it’s to help this team as much as possible. The playoffs and the Stanley Cup is the biggest thing.”

The Flyers beat the Blackhawks at home for the 11th straight time during the regular season, dating to Nov. 9, 1996.However, the Hawks won in Philadelphia in Game 6 of the 2010 Stanley Cup final to clinch the championship. The Blackhawks won the Cup again in 2013 while the Flyers are still chasing their first title since 1975.For a night, this game had as close to a playoff feel as the Flyers will get this season.Simmonds scored his 100th career goal as a Flyer in the first period for a 1-0 lead.

”I think we were making smart decisions with the puck,” Simmonds said. ”One of the biggest things we talked about before the game was we have to be smart with the puck and to have smart puck management. We haven’t made too many turnovers in the neutral zone or trying to do anything fancy.”

White and Giroux both scored in the second period to build a 3-0 lead. Giroux is in the thick of the scoring race, somehow, without a 5-on-5 goal at the Wells Fargo Center before tonight. Giroux, an All-Star this season, had downplayed the dubious distinction. But he tipped the puck over Corey Crawford’s glove midway through the second for the 3-0 lead. Jakub Voracek had his 53rd assist on the goal and he continued to make ground on the NHL scoring lead.Shaw scored the lone goal for the Blackhawks in the third.Raffl scored his 19th goal of the season in the final minutes of the game for a 4-1 lead.

NOTES—The Flyers have five home games over the final seven of the season. … The Blackhawks had allowed the second-fewest goals in the NHL (2.22).

Huge 4th quarter carries Bulls past Raptors 116-103

Chicago Bulls Logo - Red bull with script above head

TORONTO—The Bulls are feeling good about themselves as they head toward the playoffs.Jimmy Butler scored 23 points, Pau Gasol had 18 and the Bulls beat Toronto 116-103 on Wednesday night for their fifth consecutive victory over the Raptors.Making his second straight start after missing 11 games with a sprained left elbow, Butler was 7 for 8 from the field and 7 for 9 at the free-throw line. The All-Star guard also had five rebounds and three assists.

”The more he plays, that rhythm will come back,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. ”He’s put a lot of extra work in the last couple of days. Obviously we need him on both sides of the ball.”

Tony Snell scored 17 points as the Bulls moved 1 1/2 games ahead of the Raptors for third in the Eastern Conference. Aaron Brooks had 16 points, and Nikola Mirotic finished with 15.Butler said he’s not concerned about the Bulls opponent in the first round of the postseason or playoff positioning for that matter.

”I think we can beat anybody,” he said. ”I don’t think it matters what seed we end up in. We just want to win as many games and get in a rhythm and get rolling heading into the playoffs.”

Toronto backed into a playoff berth when Miami beat Boston and Charlotte lost to Brooklyn. That was of little consolation to coach Dwane Casey on the heels of the Raptors’ second straight loss and third in four games.

”There are no moral victories in this league,” Casey said.
Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan was more optimistic.
”Our confidence is still high,” he said. ”All we need is that one game to get ourselves going.”

Toronto (42-30) needs one more win or another Boston loss to clinch its second straight Atlantic Division title.Greivis Vasquez had 22 points for the Raptors, while DeRozan scored 20. Vasquez also matched a career high with six 3-pointers.Raptors guard Kyle Lowry rested for the third time in four games with a sore back. Lowry returned to the lineup against Detroit on Tuesday after a two-game absence, but left early in the second quarter and didn’t return.The Bulls (44-29) took their first lead since the opening quarter on a layup by Mirotic with 5:47 left, but DeRozan tied it with a pair of free throws.The Bulls then went in front to stay with a 7-0 run. Gasol made a layup, Brooks drained a pull-up 3 and Butler hit two from the line as the Visitors opened a 104-97 edge with 3:42 remaining.

”We knew it was time to win the game,” Butler said.

The Bulls outscored Toronto 39-21 in the fourth as the Raptors missed 12 of 18 shots. The Bulls have won four of five.Thibodeau said injured guard Derrick Rose remains on track to return in time for the playoffs.

”Everything is going according to plan,” Thibodeau said of Rose’s recovery. ”As long as it does and he doesn’t have any setbacks, I don’t see why not.”

After playing three times in six days, the Bulls now play only twice in the next seven days, hosting the Knicks on Saturday and visiting Milwaukee next Wednesday. With several players sore, Thibodeau said the down time is coming at a good time. ”It’s a chance to sort of get your house in order, tighten up some screws,” he said.

NOTES—Joakim Noah returned after sitting out Monday’s win over Charlotte with general soreness. He had nine points, five rebounds and five assists in 28 minutes. … F Doug McDermott (back) was not available. … The Bulls have won four straight and eight of 10 in Toronto….The Bulls host the New York Knicks on Saturday night….Toronto had only three turnovers through the first three quarters but made four in the fourth. …The Bulls are one of two Eastern Conference opponents the Raptors have not beaten this season. Charlotte is the other. Toronto faces the Hornets twice more before the end of the season. … The Raptors haven’t beaten the Bulls since Dec. 31, 2013.

Butler returns, Gasol and Mirotic big in win over Hornets

Chicago Bulls Logo - Red bull with script above head

Nikola Mirotic and Pau Gasol carried the Bulls in Jimmy Butler’s return to the court.Mirotic scored 14 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter, and the Bulls clinched a playoff spot with a 98-86 win over the Charlotte Hornets on Monday night.Gasol had 27 points and 12 rebounds as the Bulls moved into a tie with Toronto for third place in the Eastern Conference. Butler added 19 points on 6-of-20 shooting after missing 11 games with a sprained left elbow.
”It was great to have him back. Great,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. ”He had a bunch of bunnies that he always makes, so his timing was not quite there but I thought as the game went on, he started to get into a rhythm.”
The Bulls played without center Joakim Noah, who was scratched because of general soreness, but managed to bounce back from an ugly 107-91 loss at Detroit on Saturday.Kemba Walker had 29 points and Mo Williams scored 15 for the Hornets, who were without Cody Zeller (right shoulder) and shot just 34.6 percent from the field. Charlotte also played most of the second half without Al Jefferson, who was held out as a precaution because of a sore right knee.The Hornets finished with 11 assists and 11 turnovers.Charlotte has lost four of five to fall out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Hornets are a half-game back of Boston, which beat Brooklyn 110-91 on Monday night.
”They did a great job,” Walker said. ”Every time we tried to make a push, they scored a big basket. We just couldn’t get a stop down the stretch.”
Mirotic was 10 for 19 from the field and also had eight rebounds in 31 1/2 minutes. The 6-foot-10 rookie is averaging 21 points per game in March, helping the Bulls stay in contention despite another rash of injuries.
”Man, dude can play. He’s basically carried this month, to tell you the truth,” Butler said. ”He’s confident, I think he’s only going to continue to get better because he’s always in a gym working on his game and it shows.”
Gasol made a 3-pointer from the corner to give the Bulls a 74-69 lead heading into the final period. Mirotic had a big 3 with 2:33 to go, and then dunked over Jason Maxiell with 1:55 remaining to increase the Bulls lead to nine.
”We’ve got 10 games left to play, each and every game will be important and critical for our seeding and we’ve got to create momentum and consistency going into the playoffs,” Gasol said.
NOTES—Thibodeau said Derrick Rose (knee) is ”making good, steady progress” and the 2011 NBA MVP is ”doing everything in practice except the contact part.” … The Bulls wore their ugly alternate black uniforms at home….The Bulls visit Toronto on Wednesday night.

Crawford solid as Hawks beat Hurricanes 3-1

RALEIGH—Joel Quenneville didn’t want to talk much about his 750th NHL coaching victory.Instead, his focus was on the important two points the Blackhawks earned in a 3-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday night.The Blackhawks turned things around after losing 4-0 at Dallas in their previous game.Andrew Shaw scored twice and Corey Crawford made 43 saves for the Hawks,who have earned a point in 18 of its past 21 games.Shaw scored in the first period and with 40 seconds left in the third for the Blackhawks, who are 23-0 when leading after two periods.The Hawks played a strong first period, withstood an onslaught in the second and added an empty-net goal.Patrick Sharp said Quenneville’s intensity is one reason the Blackhawks are the team they are today, with Stanley Cup titles in 2010 and 2013.Now the Blackhawks are fighting for home ice in the upcoming Western Conference playoffs.

”It’s been an honor to play for him all these years and to be a part of a lot of those wins,” said Sharp, who had a goal and an assist. ”He’s a fun coach to play for. He’s got more intensity than the players do.”In practice, preseason games, playoff games, regular season, he’s always into it, and that filters down to our team.”

The intensity was there at the start for the Hawks,who got goals from Shaw and Sharp 1:19 apart in the first period. Shaw netted his 11th of the season, one-timing Marcus Kruger’s behind-the-net pass. Sharp then scored on a rush, redirecting Marian Hossa’s pass by Anton Khudobin.Victor Rask cut Carolina’s deficit in half early in the second period, putting in a rebound of Eric Staal’s breakaway chance.Carolina held the Blackhawks without a shot for the first 9:53 of the second and outshot the Blackhawks 17-1 overall in the period before Khudobin made a strong save on Shaw about five minutes before intermission.The Hurricanes outshot the Blackhawks 19-6 in the frame and 44-25 overall.

”It was obviously an important win,” said Quenneville, third on the career coaching victories list. ”I liked our start. What we did to them in the first they did to us in the second, and then we hung on in the third.”

He attributed the Blackhawks’ success at holding second-intermission leads to several factors, including the play of Crawford, who improved to 30-15-5.Crawford praised the defense in front of him, despite facing 44 shots.

”Guys were making sure that the lane was open for me to see pucks,” he said.

The Hurricanes fell to 15-15-6 at home.

NOTES—Jonathan Toews’ assist on Sharp’s empty-net goal gave him 500 NHL points. … Crawford improved to 5-2 against Carolina. … The Blackhawks improved to 19-7-3 against Eastern Conference teams. … The Hurricanes didn’t commit a penalty, and the Blackhawks were called for one, the Hawks killed off the power play. … Quenneville has 312 victories with the Hawks, 307 with St. Louis, and 131 with Colorado. … Khudobin made his fifth consecutive start for Carolina.

Ramblers beat ORU in CBI second round

Loyola-Chi. Ramblers logo

Loyola raced out to a 15-point halftime lead and knocked down nine straight free throws over the final 40 seconds to withstand a furious late charge in an 86-78 win over Oral Roberts in a College Basketball Invitational (CBI) quarterfinal game tonight at Gentile Arena. The Ramblers improve to 21-13 and equal their highest single-season win total since 1985. The Golden Eagles’ season comes to an end with a 19-15 record.Oral Roberts’ Aaron Young hit a three-pointer and converted a four-point play in the first 72 seconds to put the visitors on top before Loyola found its rhythm. A three-point play from Montel James and a three-point basket from Jeff White gave the Ramblers their first lead and a 10-0 run later, highlighted by five points from Earl Peterson, put LU on top 20-13 just past the midway point of the half. A three-pointer from Milton Doyle pushed the lead to double digits for the first time and another triple, this one from Devon Turk, made it a 37-22 game with 3:29 remaining. Oral Roberts scored the next five points but Loyola answered with the final five of the half to carry a 42-27 lead into intermission. Loyola shot 48% in the half and recorded assists on 11 of 13 buckets while its defense limited to the Golden Eagles to just 36% accuracy.A Doyle trey and a James jumper early in the second half gave LU its largest lead of the night (49-32) before Oral Roberts started to chip away. Six straight points sliced the margin to 11 but a steal and lay-in from Peterson bumped the lead back to 16 (54-38) five minutes into the half. A Darian Harris triple pulled ORU within 10 (56-46) but Ben Richardson had an answer, drilling a three from the left wing. With Loyola over the foul limit early, Oral Roberts used two Bobby Word free throws to get within nine with 8:29 to play. Back-to-back baskets from James, the second on a beautiful setup from Doyle in transition, kept the Golden Eagles at an arm’s length and two Richardson free throws made it a 74-62 lead with 2:40 to play before a wild finish.Word drilled two long three-pointers around a pair of Doyle free throws to cut it to eight and, after White split a pair at the line, Word drained another one to make it a 77-71 game with 43 seconds left. After Doyle hit 1-of-2, Young was fouled on a three-pointer and hit all three from the line to cut the deficit to four. Peterson hit four free throws on either side of Young making a pair and Word was fouled on a three-pointer with 16 seconds remaining. He hit the first two to cut it to four but missed the third. Joe Crisman secured the rebound and hit two free throws for his only points of the night to give LU some breathing room. Peterson hit two final ones with just under two seconds left for the final margin.Peterson was terrific all night, finishing with 19 points (4-5 FGs, 11-11 FTs), four rebounds and five assists to lead the Ramblers. James finished with 17 points while Christian Thomas (15 points) and Doyle (14 points, four assists) also reached double figures. Young led Oral Roberts with 26 points.Loyola advances to the CBI semifinals where it will host Seattle game on Wednesday night. Tip-off from Gentile Arena is scheduled for 7 p.m.

ISU come up 1 point short in NIT second round vs ODU

NORFOLK—Jonathan Arledge made the go-ahead layup with 19 seconds to play, and Old Dominion held off Illinois State 50-49 on Monday in the second round of the NIT for its 23rd straight win at home.It’s the seventh-longest active home winning streak in the country.Illinois State’s MiKyle McIntosh missed two free throws with 4.3 seconds left. ODU’s Ambrose Mosley then missed the front end of a 1-and-1, but the Redbirds, trying a length of the court pass with two seconds left, turned it over on their final play.

”There’s a reason they’re 23-0 at home; the fans, the team plays with confidence and toughness,” said ISU coach Dan Muller. ”It was a tough place to play, but we’ve been in situations like that.”

The top-seeded Monarchs (26-7) advance to host Murray State on Wednesday.

”The atmosphere was great, with the crowd being that loud, it’s tough to make those regardless of how you shoot,” said ODU’s Aaron Bacote, who had eight points.

Arledge had 10 points for the Monarchs and reserve guard Keenan Palmore scored a season-high 11, with nine rebounds, subbing for starter and leading scorer Trey Freeman (17.3 points per game).

”I just wanted to prepare for the worst and hope for the best,” said Palmore, who started last year as Freeman sat out a transfer year. ”If Trey played, then great, but I needed to be ready no matter what.”

Freeman played only 12 minutes due to an ankle injury suffered in practice.

”Really proud of our guys for that effort, not knowing whether Trey would play at all, whether he’d play five minutes or 25 minutes,” said ODU coach Jeff Jones. ”Illinois State comes at you hard. If you’re afraid or hesitant in the least, they’ll knock you back really quickly.”

Illinois State (22-13) handed ODU its worst loss of the season, 64-45, in November in the Virgin Islands.

Richards third period goal heps Darling to first career shutout as Hawks edge Rangers 1-0

NEW YORK—Brad Richards has spent many nights on the ice at Madison Square Garden, playing with and against the New York Rangers. His latest appearance provided quite a lasting memory.Richards broke a scoreless deadlock 7:19 into the third period, and young teammate Scott Darling made 25 saves in his first outing at the ”World’s Most Famous Arena” as the Blackhawks edged the Rangers 1-0 on Wednesday night for their fourth straight win.Richards spent three seasons with the Rangers before having the final six years of his contract bought out after New York’s trip to the Stanley Cup finals in 2014.

”Tonight was a little special,” the veteran forward said. ”It’s a bonus to get one in this building against them, but not in a bad way. I have nothing bad to say about the organization or New York. Everyone knows how much I love playing here.It was pretty cool to score against them and win the game.”

Right after Rangers defenseman Dan Boyle rang a shot off the crossbar behind Darling, Richards got the puck in front of the New York net, waited patiently and snapped a shot past Cam Talbot for his 11th goal.

”We hit the crossbar, and not even 20 seconds after we’re losing the game,” said Rangers forward Derick Brassard, who scored in overtime on March 8 at the United Center to give the Rangers a 1-0 win.

The Blackhawks stretched their winning streak to four and snapped the Eastern Conference-leading Rangers’ winning run at five.Richards has five career goals against New York. His latest was enough to make a winner of Darling, who played for just the third time since Dec. 13. He improved to 7-3 and earned his first NHL shutout in 10 career games.

”This was special for me against them in this famous arena,” the 26-year-old Darling said. ”An Original Six matchup on national TV. You can’t ask for more. It was a great night.”

Talbot, who stopped 30 shots, had been 5-0-1 with a 1.00 goals-against average in his previous six games. He hasn’t allowed more than two goals in a game in his last seven appearances.

”I felt really good again,” Talbot said. ”I felt like I was seeing the puck well and controlling the puck. It’s tough when a guy like Richie gets that much time in the slot. You almost have to try to wait him out, but it was a tough situation and he made a nice play.”

The Rangers fell to 15-4-2 since No. 1 goalie Henrik Lundqvist was forced out of the lineup by a neck injury. Lundqvist has been cleared to return to practice and is getting closer to rejoining the lineup.New York has scored only 11 goals in its past seven games.Much like the previous meeting between these teams, goals were tough to come by. Talbot got the best of No. 1 goalie Corey Crawford in that one.Jonathan Toews, who had two goals and two assists Tuesday in the Blackhawks’ 4-1 home victory over the New York Islanders, nearly gave the Hawks the lead with 13:02 left in the first, but his chance at the right post during a power play was snagged by Talbot’s glove.Richards was denied 1:23 later during the same advantage when Talbot blocked his shot from the slot and covered the rebound.Darling matched his New York counterpart and turned aside a couple of chances in close. Dominic Moore then slid the puck into the net, but the goal didn’t count because the whistle had already sounded. Rick Nash also got in tight later in the period, only to be denied by Darling.There was a moment of confusion with 9:29 left in the second when Derek Stepan’s drive hit the side of the net to Darling’s right. Fans behind the goalie thought the puck had gone in and began cheering. The spotlight operator also was fooled and shined lights in the crease.It wasn’t to be.

”The difference was we go down get a chance, hit the crossbar, then they come down and score,” Stepan said. ”That’s kind of the way hockey is.”

NOTES—A video highlighting Richards’ time with the Rangers was shown during the first period. It ended with the words ”Once a Ranger, Always a Ranger.” Richards acknowledged cheers from the crowd with a wave from the bench. … Lundqvist will remain out for at least another week as he begins practicing with teammates and gets back into game shape. … Rangers RW Martin St. Louis (knee) missed his first game of the season.

Mirotic leads Bulls past Pacers 103-86

Chicago Bulls Logo - Red bull with script above head

With his play on the court, Nikola Mirotic is demanding significant playing time even after injured big man Taj Gibson returns to action.

Off the court, though, Mirotic’s minutes are of little concern to him right now.

”My role? I don’t know,” the Chicago Bulls’ rookie forward said. ”If I play 10 minutes, I don’t care. When I’m on the court, I’ll try and play good defense and good offense and try to help the team.”

Mirotic scored 20 of his 25 points in the second half, Mike Dunleavy added 21 points and Pau Gasol had 19 points and 12 rebounds to lead the short-handed Bulls to a 103-86 victory over the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday night.

Mirotic, who played 31 minutes off the bench, entered averaging 20.3 points in nine games in March. His previous best scoring month was the 9.9 points he averaged in December.

Gasol believes those numbers warrant a bigger role for Mirotic.

”For sure, for sure,” Gasol said. ”Once we get everyone back – and hopefully we stay healthy – the coaching staff has to figure how to make sure they take advantage of the players that are playing at a high level now.

”It’s great to see young players prove their value and prove their talent and help us get wins.”

The Bulls (41-28) snapped a two-game losing streak despite playing without injured starters Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler and Gibson.

Solomon Hill had 13 points to lead six players in double figures for Indiana (30-37).

The teams split the season series 2-2. In the first three meetings, the Pacers held the Bulls to an average of 88.7 points on 37.5 percent shooting. But the Bulls broke through for 51 points in the first half Wednesday, led by Dunleavy’s 19 points on 5-for-7 shooting on 3-pointers.

”We’ve just had some mental lapses early, left 3-point shooters and let them get going,” Indiana coach Frank Vogel said. ”We’ve got some guys that are a little bit out of sync offensively, so we’ve just got to figure that out.”

The Bulls led 51-41 at halftime and never led by less than three points in the second half. Every time the Pacers tried to rally, Mirotic had a response.

”He’s spectacular,” Vogel said of Mirotic. ”Not just second half, but he’s given us a lot of problems. He’s a threat at the 3-point line, great off the bounce, great with his cutting game. He’s a heck of a weapon off the bench, and we clearly didn’t do a good enough job on him.”

Mirotic also had nine rebounds as the Bulls posted a 52-38 edge on the boards.

The rookie has proved so valuable of late that he’s playing a lot of minutes in the fourth quarter, but Mirotic said he has no expectations going forward.

”I want Taj to come back because we need him,” he said. ”For me, always the most important thing is the team and right now we have 13 games left, so every game is really important for us and we’ll go step by step.”

Speaking on Wednesday for the first time since he sat out the final six minutes of a loss at San Antonio on Sunday because of a minutes limit, Joakim Noah tried to defuse the budding controversy of a rift between coach Tom Thibodeau and Bulls management over the situation.

”I’m just trying to stay focused on what’s important and trying to win basketball games,” he said. ”I’m not trying to get caught up in any noise or anything like that. I don’t want to be a distraction. We’ll figure it out internally and do what’s best for the team.”

NOTES—Paul George, who broke a leg during a USA Basketball exhibition game over the summer, is practicing on a limited basis, but whether he’ll return this season is unclear. It’s literally week to week and just see where we’re at,” coach Frank Vogel said. ”If he’s not ready to play before (the playoffs), then he’s not ready to play. He might not play this year.” … Indiana center Ian Mahinmi left in the third quarter with a bruised forehead after he was inadvertently elbowed by teammate C.J. Watson.The Bulls remained short-handed Wednesday, but their health could improve significantly soon. Butler (sprained left elbow) and Gibson (sprained left ankle) are practicing and could return later this week. ”Both are coming along well,” Thibodeau said. ”They’re getting closer, they’re going through practice fully, contact and everything, so hopefully it’ll be soon.” … The Bulls observed a moment of silence before the game for Jack Haley, a member of the 1995-96 team who died Tuesday.The Bulls host the Toronto Raptors on Friday.