Duke has made the Elite Eight for three consecutive years. But to extend that streak to four, the second-seeded Blue Devils (32-2) will have to play bracket-buster to the nation’s highest authority: President Obama selected sixth-seeded Nebraska to advance to the regional final.
The Cornhuskers (24-8) have already busted one bracket this season, taking down third-seeded Texas A&M in the second round. Going up against a team that has won 13 of 15 games since mid-January, the Blue Devils will look to avoid that fate in Norfolk, Va. Sunday at 2:30 p.m.
Nebraska’s offense runs through senior point guard Lindsey Moore, who leads the team with 5.6 assists per game and also averages 15.1 points per game, second on the team to junior forward Jordan Hooper’s 18.1.
Moore’s experience has shown this season, leading the Big Ten in assist-to-turnover ratio and making the Big Ten All-Tournament Team. The veteran’s prowess has also been on display in the tournament, with Moore pouring in 20 points and 10 assists in the Cornhuskers’ upset of Texas A&M.
“Team defense can be very important because they run a nice offense,” Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “They cut well, they look for each other and they pass well. So we have to disrupt their motion on offense and really get after some great players.”
An area of concern for Nebraska is its 3-point shooting. The Cornhuskers do not have one player on their team that averages 40 percent from behind-the-arc. Moore leads the team at 39.5 percent from downtown.
Conversely, Duke boasts several players who can shoot the long ball, with three players averaging better than 40 percent. Junior guard Tricia Liston leads the Blue Devils in 3-point shooting, hitting 46.1 percent of her long-range shots. “We’ve got to the ball up the floor quickly, and it’s important that we make them defend us as much as possible,” McCallie said.
The matchup to watch will feature experience against youth when Moore—Nebraska’s all-time leader in starts and career minutes—takes on Duke’s freshman point guard Alexis Jones, who has stepped up for Duke with star point guard Chelsea Gary out for the season.
In its second-round game, Duke came back from a 13-point halftime deficit against Oklahoma State to win by nine. The comeback was thanks in large part to the fluidity of the Blue Devil’s offense, which is putting up 75.1 points per game, nearly eight points more than the Cornhuskers.
“The ability we had in the second half to really turn it on defensively and hold them and come back was just a testament to our heart and pride,” Williams said. “In NCAA tournament games like that where our shots aren’t falling, our ability to get consecutive stops is going to be very important moving forward.”
One advantage Duke will not have moving forward will be playing on its homecourt. The Blue Devils played their opening two games at Cameron Indoor Stadium, but now hit the road for the first time in NCAA tournament play. This does not bother the players, however.
“Overall we’ve a pretty good job of adjusting to the travel,” Williams said. “It’s not too far so I think we’ll still have a lot of Duke fans over there.”
It may not be Duke, but the Ted Constant Convocation Center will still be home to Williams. The center grew up and played high school basketball about 30 minutes from the arena in Virginia Beach and will be playing in front of many of her old friends and family.
“I’m really excited,” Williams said. “It’s a great opportunity for my teammates to see where I’m from and for my high school coaches see me play in person. I’m just really excited to go back home.”
Williams is not the only Blue Devil who will be close to home. Sophomore guard Ka’lia Johnson grew up in Chester, Va. only an hour and a half away from Norfolk. If Duke is able to come away with a victory, it will play the winner of Notre Dame-Kansas game on Tuesday in Norfolk.