NORFOLK, Va. — Twenty-four hours before they’d take a shot at making program history, most members of the Nebraska women’s basketball team laughed, munched chips and swigged a Powerade flavor of their choice.
Loose, chatty, fun. That’s on the outside, insists senior forward Meghin Williams. On the inside?
“Very focused,” she said. “We know what’s at stake — the Elite Eight. There’s real attention to detail.”
Another round of the NCAA tournament. Another chance for the sixth-seeded Huskers to grab a bit of the ESPN spotlight. Another heavyweight battle on the way.
Just one week after NU stunned No. 3 seed Texas A&M — which won the 2011 NCAA title — it plays a 1:30 p.m. Sunday game here against one of the sport’s blue-blood programs.
That’s No. 2 seed Duke, which has been to three straight Elite Eights and has every expectation to make a fourth. The Blue Devils bring to the Constant Convocation Center one of the nation’s most potent offenses, plus the patience and talent to execute it.
“Duke is going to take it to a different level in some ways,” NU coach Connie Yori said.
And yet ...
“Our players are still hungry,” Yori said. The Huskers are “poised” and “confident.” After a sharp tongue-lashing at halftime of Nebraska’s first-round win over Chattanooga — in which Yori asked players if they wanted to win — the team “woke up,” sophomore guard Tear’a Laudermill said.
NU held off Chattanooga 73-59, knocked out A&M 74-63 on the Aggies’ home floor, and have no intention of backing down from Duke, the ACC regular season and tournament champion.
“Duke? Everybody knows about Duke,” Laudermill said. “We know what we’re coming against. We’re not going to be scared.”
Said point guard Lindsey Moore: “You have to be confident — and know you’re here for a reason. We’ve played good basketball, too. Not to take away anything from what Duke has done this season — they’ve had a great season — but we just can’t not play our game.”
The Blue Devils are not likely to be as complacent as the Aggies appeared to be before the Huskers shocked them. Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie and players gushed about Nebraska Saturday in their pregame press conferences.
“They are playing outstanding basketball together,” McCallie said. “Their 3-point shooting is a mess — and I mean that in the most positive way. They can really shoot the 3 ball from all five spots. They can create shots, and they all know how to pass. They get down the floor very quickly.”
Said forward Haley Peters: “I think offensively they’re a great penetrate-and-kick team. They spread the floor out pretty well.”
Duke does the same. The Blue Devils have a true post scorer in center Elizabeth Williams — a self-described “perfectionist” coming back to her high school stomping grounds — and an array of 3-point shooting weapons.
“When you have a weakness, usually a team is a little bit easier to guard,” Yori said. “Duke doesn’t have that.”
While NU players agree, they also see their offense hitting its stride under point guard Moore, who scored 20 points and dished out 10 assists in the win over A&M. They see a Duke team with several more high-school All-Americans on the roster, but it’s not a roster dramatically different from Penn State’s. Yes, the Huskers lost twice to the Nittany Lions in the regular season. But Nebraska’s also the last Big Ten team left in the Big Dance.
Moore said NU’s ready to take on another giant — and perhaps take a step closer to becoming a giant itself. The winner likely plays No. 1 seed Notre Dame, whose game against No. 12 seed Kansas precedes the Nebraska-Duke tilt. The Fighting Irish are even more of a commodity in women’s college basketball.
The climb gets steeper. The giants get bigger. The Huskers want the challenge, starting with Duke.
“We understand they’re a big name, but we’ve been playing successfully and having a good run,” Moore said. “So we need to make sure that we stay focused on the things we’ve done to this point and not necessarily psych ourselves out against a big name like that. We just have to play Nebraska basketball ... We don’t want to stop now. We want to keep going and make history in Nebraska.”
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