LINCOLN — Nebraska's Sweet 16 assignment in the women's NCAA tournament is the ACC champion deep in the heart of ACC country.
The sixth-seeded Huskers will play No. 2 seed Duke, which Tuesday night beat No. 7 seed Oklahoma State 68-59, Sunday in Norfolk, Va., a Naval port city just three hours from the Blue Devils' campus in Durham, N.C. Norfolk is also right next door to the Virginia Beach hometown of one of Duke's best players, center Elizabeth Williams.
Nebraska's 74-63 win Monday at No. 3 seed Texas A&M was a tall order fulfilled. Nebraska's first meeting with Duke is hardly any easier, considering the Blue Devils have been to three straight Elite Eights.
“Duke is one of the most talented teams in the nation,” Nebraska coach Connie Yori said in a statement Tuesday night. “They have a roster filled from top to bottom with college All-Americans, all-ACC players, high school All-Americans and USA national program players.
“It seems like they are in the national championship discussion every year, and there are some really good reasons for that. They have great players and great coaches. It will be a great challenge for us to take on Duke Sunday in Virginia, but we are looking forward to the opportunity to play in the Sweet 16 again.”
The Blue Devils (32-2) won the ACC regular-season title by three games and followed it up with a title in the ACC tournament despite losing starting point guard Chelsea Gray to a dislocated knee in mid-February. Their two losses this year were to Miami (Fla.), which lost to Iowa in the first round of the NCAA tournament, and Connecticut, one of three main favorites for the national title.
For much of Tuesday, it looked like the Cowgirls would deliver Duke a third loss, leading by 15 early in the second half. OSU executed its offense much like Nebraska did in its win over A&M. The Blue Devils turned up their trademark pressure defense to chip away at Oklahoma State's lead, but they still trailed 51-45 with less than eight minutes left.
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Duke then went on a 17-2 run, forcing three turnovers and nine missed shots. It finished the season undefeated at Cameroon Indoor Stadium.
The Blue Devils are paced by Williams, a traditional center who averages 15.5 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. She's a key defensive stopper, too, averaging three blocks per game. Williams, who was the No. 1 high school recruit in 2011, allows Duke's guards to play for steals.
And Duke get steals — 11.6 per game. Eight players in its current nine-woman rotation have 20 or more steals. Duke's transition game is a medley of layups and 3-pointers; the Blue Devils have four players shooting better than 40 percent from beyond the 3-point arc.
So the Blue Devils are slightly more aggressive than the A&M team that Nebraska just beat, and have better shooters. They have seven high school All-Americans and 11 top 100 recruits. What Duke now lacks — what perhaps kept the team from a No. 1 seed — is a true point guard. Gray was that, averaging 13 points, 5.6 assists and 3.7 steals before hurting her knee in a win over Wake Forest. She had surgery March 15 and won't return until next year.
Husker point guard Lindsey Moore, meanwhile, just played one of her best games, a 20-point, 10-assist performance against the Aggies.
“She's a great scorer and distributor,” Yori said of Moore. “When she has the ball, our other players need to keep moving around because Lindsay will find them.”
Moore's also the only Big Ten point guard left standing. NU's the only league team to advance to the Sweet 16. Iowa lost to No. 1 seed Notre Dame 74-57 — the Irish will play No. 12 seed Kansas in Norfolk as well. Fourth-seeded Purdue lost handily Tuesday to Louisville, while third-seeded Penn State lost 71-66 at sixth-seeded LSU. The Nittany Lions were outscored 16-6 in the game's final 6:19.
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