Nebraska-Duke Preview

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
behind star point guard Lindsay Moore’s 20 points and 10 assists.
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.

”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.”

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,” coach Joanne P. 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.”

The Blue Devils swept the Atlantic Coast Conference
regular-season and tournament championships. They made it to the
regional semifinals by rallying from 15 points down in the second
half to beat Oklahoma State 68-59 on Tuesday.

”Duke is one of the most talented teams in the nation,”
Nebraska coach Connie Yori said. ”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.”

But Nebraska has won 13 of 15 and believes it can play with
anybody, especially after Monday’s 74-63 win over Texas A&M on
the Aggies’ home court.

One key for the Cornhuskers, Moore said, is not getting psyched
out by Duke’s resume.

”We understand that they’re a big name, but we have been
playing successfully and having a good run,” she said. ”So we
just need to make sure we stay focused on the things that we’ve
done up to this point and not necessarily psych ourselves out
against a big name like that. Just play Nebraska basketball.”

Her coach, like all the others in the regional, trusts that her
point guard can make it happen.

”She is a kid who does not like to lose,” Yori said. ”It
doesn’t matter if we are playing a shooting game in practice,
five-on-five, game time, or monopoly. She does not like to
lose.”