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Duke women eyeing 1st Final Four since 2006

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DURHAM, N.C. (AP)

For the upperclassmen on Duke's roster, every season has ended the same way: get one step from the women's Final Four, then lose.

The Blue Devils have lost three straight regional finals and are determined to not make it four in a row.

Second-seeded Duke (32-2) plays sixth-seeded Nebraska (25-8) on Sunday in the Norfolk Regional semifinals.

And if the Blue Devils beat the Cornhuskers, they'll face either top-seeded Notre Dame or 12th-seeded Kansas for a spot in New Orleans - and a chance to reverse recent history. Duke hasn't reached the Final Four since 2006.

Of course, the Blue Devils insist they aren't looking past a Nebraska team that just knocked off third-seeded Texas A&M. But they're well aware of how their last few seasons have ended and they don't want it happening again.

''In the end, it comes down to the determination and the fight of a team,'' guard Tricia Liston said Friday. ''We're really trying to make it a different season for us this year by taking that next step.''

That's been a tough step to take for a Duke program that has reached the second weekend of the NCAA tournament in 15 of the last 16 years and has four Final Fours to its credit but none since '06.

In each of the past three years, the Blue Devils have received a No. 2 seed. They were bounced by a powerhouse No. 1 seed in the past two tournaments - Stanford last year, and Connecticut in 2011. The 2010 team lost to a fourth-seeded Baylor team built around then-freshman Brittney Griner.

''As we've learned in the past, tournament time is only (about) one game - you can only really focus on one because then you have the chance of not even making it to the next,'' Liston said. ''Based on some lessons we've learned ... we don't really look ahead anymore, and we kind of have to focus game by game and earn our next 40 minutes.''

Coach Joanne P. McCallie, whose only Final Four appearance came with Michigan State in 2005, says one challenge at this stage of the tournament is keeping things consistent.

''Nothing changes with your preparation - you just keep on preparing the same way,'' McCallie said. ''There's a pattern of consistency that you really try to work with for your team. It's very different. You don't hype up (but) simply continue to work on improving your team's game and improving your focus.''

This Duke team features an interesting mix of youth and experience in the tournament.

The Blue Devils have only one senior - backup center Allison Vernerey - and a starting lineup that consists of three juniors, shot-blocking sophomore Elizabeth Williams and freshman Alexis Jones, who slid over to play point guard after Chelsea Gray was lost for the season.

Those five have combined to start 24 NCAA tournament games in their careers.

''This is a special time of year right now, playing with a team and trying to get little details and fun things going - maybe an extra play here or there,'' McCallie said. ''It's all the little things that make a difference. To me, I've been doing this a long time and it's always fun because you have a new team and a new experience.''

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Follow Joedy McCreary on Twitter at (at)JoedyAP.

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