Defense spearheads Duke Sweet 16 win over Cornhuskers
No points off the bench, getting to the free throw line just nine times, a pair of key players combine to shoot 2-of-17 from the floor and the point guard has seven turnovers and six assists.
Usually, that’s not a formula for success.
But the Duke Blue Devils clamped down on defense to eliminate Nebraska 53-45 on Sunday in the semifinals of the Norfolk Regional at the Ted Constant Convocation Center.
“We don’t want to be pretty; we want to advance,” Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said after the Blue Devils (33-2) advanced to their fourth consecutive regional championship game, where they will face top-seeded Notre Dame on Tuesday (7 p.m., ESPN).
“We want to to find a way to keep going, and I hope we can play our best game ever next game. ... I don’t think any team is going to let you go off and score a bunch of points. Based on what I can see, what’s left in the tournament, you’ve got some pretty good defensive teams.”
Tricia Liston scored a game-high 17 points for Duke, while Alexis Jones added 14. Sophomore center Elizabeth Williams, playing in front of friends and family from nearby Virginia Beach, had 10 points, nine rebounds and blocked seven shots — the second-highest total in a postseason game by a Duke player.
“Seven blocks it a pretty amzing stat, along with her rebounds, trying to get her to attack more on offense and do things there,” McCallie said of Williams’ performance. “But it’s the complete game that matters most — the defense, the rebounding, the blocks.”
Nebraska leading scorer Jordan Hooper, who suffered an ankle injury in the second half and did not return, finished with six points, 12 below her season average, on 3-of-14 shooting. Senior point guard Lindsey Moore led the Cornhuskers with 11 points, four below her average.
Overall, Duke made 21 of 64 shots (32.8 percent), including 4 of 16 from 3-point range. The Blue Devils limited Nebraska (26-8) to 30.3 percent shooting, including 3 for 24 on 3-point shots.
“(It was) a game that baskets were hard to come by for both teams,” Nebraska coach Connie Yori said. “A lot of the shots we took, particularly in the second half, I’d take again.
“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 that we couldn’t seem to cash in on. Duke did just enough offensively to win the game, but you’ve got to credit what they did on the defensive end.”
Duke struggled to score in the first half, trailing 18-11 with 5:46 remaining. But Liston opened a 12-0 run with 3-pointer, and Jones added six points while attacking the lane to provide a 23-18 halftime margin.
“It can be frustrating at times,” Liston said of the sluggish start. “But that is where our defense comes in. If we are getting stops, we will at least be head-to-head during the game.
“It is definately something we need to focus more on and learn from. ... We must learn to settle down and wait for the right shot, especially when some of our shots are not falling.”
Nebraska cut the lead to a single point three times early in the second half but couldn’t pull even.
Neither team scored during a three-minute segment of the half, combining to miss six straight shots, until Richa Jackson’s layup built Duke’s lead to 32-26 with 13:39 left.
Jackson, Williams and Haley Peters — who passed the 1,000-point mark against Nebraska — combined for a 10-4 run that gave Duke its biggest margin at 40-30 with 8:49 left.
Hooper scored with 7:55 left to cut the margin to 40-32. But she twisted her ankle on the play and was unable to continue.
Nebraska never got closer than six points the rest of the way, as Liston made all four of her free throws including a pair to close out the scoring with 19.6 seconds left.
“We set a defensive goal at the beginning of each game,” Liston said. “Our goal today was to hold Nebraska’s offense to 50 points. Based on that, I would say we were going to win it if we got our defensive stops.”
|DUKE 53, NEBRASKA 45|
Percentages: FG .303, FT 1.000.
3-Point Goals: 3-24, .125 (Theriot 1-1, Laudermill 1-4, Moore 1-8, Jeffery 0-2, Cady 0-2, Hooper 0-7).
Team Rebounds: 7.
Blocked Shots: 5 (Cady 3, Williams, Laudermill).
Turnovers: 12 (Moore 4, Cady 3, Theriot 2, Hooper 2, Williams).
Steals: 5 (Cady 2, Jeffery, Moore, Simon).
Technical Fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .328, FT .778.
3-Point Goals: 4-16, .250 (Liston 3-5, Jones 1-5, Johnson 0-1, Jackson 0-2, Wells 0-3).
Team Rebounds: 5.
Blocked Shots: 10 (Williams 7, Peters 2, Jones).
Turnovers: 9 (Jones 7, Liston 2).
Steals: 7 (Vernerey 2, Jackson 2, Liston 2, Williams).
Technical Fouls: None.
Officials—Beverly Roberts, William Smith, Brian Hall.