- Graham Hays, espnW.com
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NORFOLK, Va. -- In a ritual of spring becoming about as familiar as Opening Day in baseball, Duke is heading to a regional final as a No. 2 seed. With a 53-45 win against No. 6 seed Nebraska, Duke earned another crack at its first trip to the Final Four since losing in the 2006 national championship game. Tricia Liston led the Blue Devils with 17 points and added eight rebounds. A quick reaction:
Overview: Looking every bit as confident as a team would a week after beating third-seeded Texas A&M on the Aggies' home court in College Station, Nebraska jumped to an 18-11 lead with 5:45 remaining in the first half. It didn't score again until its first possession of the second half. Duke put together a 12-0 run to take a lead it never ceded, built on smothering defense and just enough offense. Duke shot just 33 percent in the game, but critically, that was better than Nebraska's 30 percent shooting (including 13 percent from the 3-point line).
Turning point: Duke's run to end the first half was one. But the run that never arrived from Nebraska's Jordan Hooper and Lindsey Moore was equally pivotal. Nebraska's two stars suffered through tough shooting days against an aggressive defense. Their struggles were unfortunately encapsulated by Hooper's hitting the last of her three field goal attempts, only to suffer a left ankle injury that sent her to the locker room for the final eight minutes of the game. The two hit a combined 8 of 32 shots. Even when the Huskers narrowed the deficit to 44-38 inside of four minutes to play, the shots just weren't there to complete the comeback.
Key player: Alexis Jones. It wasn't the maestro's command that Notre Dame point guard Skylar Diggins displayed in the day's first game, but Jones more than held up her end of the bargain in a regional loaded with some of the best point guards in the nation, including her injured teammate Chelsea Gray. Jones finished with 14 points, nine rebounds and six assists. The freshman also had seven turnovers, but if her job was to manage the team on the floor, she succeeded.
Key stat: Four. As in Final Four, the round Duke is one win away from reaching. And four, as in the number of years in a row the Blue Devils have been in that position without getting a fourth tournament win.
What's next: Duke faces top-seeded Notre Dame, a new entry on its list of recent regional final nemeses that already included Baylor in 2010, Connecticut in 2011 and Stanford in 2012. The teams have played once with any of their current players involved, Notre Dame winning 56-54 early in the 2011-12 season. Elizabeth Williams finished three blocks shy of a triple-double in that game with 16 points, 13 rebounds and seven blocks. ... Nebraska finishes its season at 25-9.
19dBonnie D. Ford