by Mike Potter
CONSTANT CENTER/NORFOLK, Va. Duke will be a solid favorite coming into its regional semifinal game against Nebraska, and the Blue Devils have been great in this game in recent seasons.
No. 2 seed Duke (32-2) has won three straight times in Round-of-16 games before being eliminated in the Elite Eight.
The No. 2-ranked Irish (34-1) annihilated Kansas 93-63 in the other first-round matchup on Sunday.
It’s the first meeting between the No. 5-ranked Blue Devils and the No. 24-ranked Huskers.
And oh, it will be a homecoming game for Virginia Beach native and Duke center and leading scorer Elizabeth Williams, playing for the first time in Tidewater as a Blue Devil.
For the third time in as many NCAA games the Blue Devils grind one out, survive and advance, ousting the Cornhuskers 53-45.
Duke is up 23-18 at the break after closing the half on a 12-0 run. Neither team attempts a free throw in the first half, as only six fouls were called.
Tricia Liston leads Duke with 10 points at the break while Alexis Jones chips in nine. Tear’a Laudermill’s seven points pace the Cornhuskers.
Duke shoots 31.3 percent for the half to Nebraska’s 24.2, but was losing the rebound battle 27-20. Duke commits four turnovers before intermission to eight for Nebraska.
Nebraska cuts the lead to a point three times early in the second half before Liston’s 3-pointer with 16:40 left makes it 30-26.
Haley Peters stretches it to 40-30 on a short jumper at 8:50, and 42-32 when she hits a pair of free throws in the first charity shots of the game at 6:31.
Nebraska’s closest approach from there is on Lindsey Moore’s jumper to cut it to 51-45 with 21.9 to go, but Liston hits a pair of free throws at 19.2 to complete the scoring.
Liston leads the Blue Devils with 17 points and eight rebounds, followed by Jones with 14 points and nine boards.
Williams finishes with 10 points — giving her 999 for her career — nine rebounds and seven blocks. Peters adds eight points to become the 30th Duke player to go over 1000.
Moore paces Nebraska with 11 points, while Jordan Hooper has 11 rebounds and six points before exiting with an ankle injury with 7:55 left.
Duke shoots 32.8 percent from the floor to Nebraska’s 30.3, ekes out a 46-45 win on the boards and commits just nine turnovers to the Cornhuskers’ 12.
They said it …
Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie: “What a basketball game that was — a lot of grit, a lot of defense. Nebraska’s an excellent team. They’re very well-coached. I think we played very good defense, and I think that was the difference for our team. Some of the stops we made were very critical, and to hold a Nebraska team to 45 points was a very good thing for us to do.”
Nebraska coach Connie Yori: “Baskets were hard to come by for both teams. We didn’t get to the foul line. I thought they did a good job on dribble penetration. I didn’t think our shots were as good in the first half, but I thought in the second half we got some really good looks. Duke did just enough offensively to win the game, but you’ve got to credit what they did on the defensive end.”
Liston: “We set a defensive goal at the beginning of each game, and our goal today was to hold Nebraska to 50 points. Based on that, I would say we were going to win it if we got defensive stops. Either way it was going to come down to the other side of the floor — being able to get stops and then come down the court and create shots was going to be key for us.”
Williams: “This was great! It was nice to be back in this environment. Besides my family, there were a lot of fans from Durham. It was definitely a good experience. … Rebounds were our main emphasis at halftime. In a game like this where we weren’t going to score a lot of points, we knew defensive rebounding would make a big difference.”
What does it all mean?
That the Blue Devils get the game they wanted All. Season. Long.
Stars of the game
Play of the game
Peters’ short jumper with 8:49 left to give Duke its first 10-point lead at 40-30.
Duke: Won 7.
Nebraska: Lost 2.
Duke leads 1-0.
Duke vs. Notre Dame, Tuesday, 7 p.m.