NORFOLK, Va. — With 54 seconds left in her career, Nebraska guard Lindsey Moore stepped into a 3-pointer and watched it swish. She threw up her hands the way basketball players do when every other shot that day spun out, fell short or just plain boinked off the rim.
“Finally, I make one, and it’s too little, too late,” Moore said, rolling her eyes.
NU coach Connie Yori might have felt like doing that as she watched the sixth-seeded Huskers miss open jumper after open jumper Sunday in a 53-45 loss to No. 2 Duke.
But as NU bowed out of the Sweet 16 round in the NCAA tournament, she smiled and clapped. The players’ eyes in the locker room were red-rimmed, but that was at least as much for Moore’s final game as the result itself.
Nebraska held one of the nation’s best offensive teams 22 points below its average. It lost the rebounding battle to a much taller, deeper team by just one board. Even when leading scorer Jordan Hooper left the game midway through the second half with a left ankle sprain, NU still had its chances to advance to the Elite Eight.
The Huskers had their shots. They just didn’t make many of them.
“You have those days,” Hooper said. “Unfortunately, we had one of those this time. We took a lot of really good shots. They just didn’t go in. I feel like if we had those shots again back tomorrow, we’d make five out of 10 instead of zero out of 10. That’s the way it goes.”
Said Yori: “A lot of the shots we took — particularly in the second half — I’d take again. I thought, in the second half, we got some really good looks. We couldn’t seem to cash in.”
Especially NU’s two stars. Moore and Hooper took 32 shots. They made eight. They missed 14 of their 15 3-pointers. A few from Hooper, Yori said, were questionable. But most of the 3-pointers were good, clean looks. The kind Hooper and Moore make half of the time, Hooper said.
As a team, the Huskers shot 30.3 percent from the floor and 12.5 percent — that’s 3 of 24 — from 3-point range. That wouldn’t beat many Big Ten teams. In front of 5,687 at the Constant Convocation Center, it wasn’t enough to beat Duke, which repeatedly switched defenses between a 3-2 zone, 2-3 zone and man-to-man to keep NU on its toes.
The Huskers whipped passes around the zone, looking for some room to puncture it. When they did, they usually found Blue Devil center Elizabeth Williams, who had seven blocks. When they didn’t, they launched the long ball. The futility resulted in Nebraska’s lowest point output since Feb. 9, 2011, when NU lost 70-45 to another team with an imposing shot-blocker — Baylor.
“I hope it was confusing,” Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said of her defense, “because we were trying to be confusing.”
The shooting woes and Hooper’s injury didn’t stop NU (25-9) from taking Duke (33-2) into the final minutes. The Huskers trailed 44-38 with 3:30 left and had two chances to cut the lead to four. But forward Meghin Williams had a shot blocked, and Tear’a Laudermill missed a fast-break layup on the next possession. Duke freshman point guard Alexis Jones then made a jumper to put the game out of reach.
After taking a 23-18 halftime lead, Duke never trailed in the second half, as Jones and guard Tricia Liston — who combined for 31 points — kept Nebraska at bay.
Hooper left the game at the 7:56 mark after falling awkwardly on her left ankle in the process of making a jumper. Before her departure, she’d made 3 of 14 shots and no 3-pointers. She rejoined the team on the bench late in the game.
In the first half, the Huskers controlled much of the pace and led for most of the opening 20 minutes. Outrebounding the Blue Devils 27-20, Nebraska was often able to limit one of the nation’s most explosive offenses to one shot per possession.
After Duke took a 5-0 lead, NU went on an 18-6 run paced by seven points from Laudermill, who hit two driving layups and a 3-pointer. The Huskers held an 18-11 lead at the 6:56 mark.
They didn’t score again in the half as the Blue Devils finished on a 12-0 run. Jones scored seven points in that stretch.
“We emphasized to her that it might be a good idea to take what’s right in front of you, and she did,” McCallie said of Jones.
Only Laudermill, who hit 3 of 6 shots, and Rachel Theriot, who made 2 of 3, had much offensive success in the first half. They both finished the game with seven points. Moore led the Huskers with 11 points. Hooper had six points and a game-high 11 rebounds. It’s not how the two stars wanted to finish their seasons.
But Hooper found a silver lining. Nebraska took the ACC champion — a team heading to its fourth straight Elite Eight — the distance, matching up with a team that has more pedigree and high school All-Americans.
“It’s just that our shots weren’t falling,” Hooper said. “And that does give you a lot of confidence. We can hang with the best teams. We just need a better shooting day. I feel like it would have been a different outcome. We can stay with them. And everybody around us knows.”
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