NORFOLK, Va. — Two women's-sized basketballs will fit through a hoop.
Not even one would fit enough times for Nebraska to back up a strong defensive effort against Duke on Sunday in the NCAA Tournament.
The No. 24 Huskers (25-9) hit just 30 percent of their shots, and only 3 of 24 three-pointers, in a 53-45 loss to fifth-ranked Duke in the NCAA round of 16 at the Constant Convocation Center.
There was still some consolation in playing Duke so close.
"It's exciting to see where Nebraska wasn't even mentioned and we're getting back to the tournament and with a couple of shots, we'd be going on," said NU senior guard Lindsey Moore, who set a school career assist record and is the only Husker to play in two Sweet 16 games.
Nebraska's scoring problems were darkened when season-leading scorer Jordan Hooper sprained her left ankle and left the game with 7:53 to play and the Huskers trailing by eight points. She scored just 6 in the game — 12 below her average and her lowest output since Dec. 5.
"It was a game where baskets were hard to come by and I told the team don't say 'if' and 'but,' but I can say 'if' and 'but' when it comes to baskets going in and shots going in and out, around and out and just not going through," Husker coach Connie Yori said. "You've got to keep playing and keep shooting. We had open looks, and in the second half we had a lot of shots I'd want us to try again.
"But when your two best shooters go 1-for-15 in the first half, and we couldn't go inside, it gets tough."
The Huskers' top three scorers had a combined four points at halftime of the second Sweet 16 appearance in school history.
But Nebraska played some of its best defense of the season, holding Duke to a season-worst 32 percent shooting and its second-lowest scoring output of the season — second only to a 79-49 loss to Connecticut.
Rebounding was relatively even, turnovers and assists were a wash, but Duke's 25 percent three-point shooting, compared with Nebraska's 12.5 percent, proved to be the difference.
"Obviously, we struggled with shooting and we had to keep shooting, that's the only way out of that," said Moore, who was 5-for-18 and finished with 11 points. "We had good shots, really good looks in the second half, and they just wouldn't go down."
The Huskers crept with six points on a basket by senior Meghin Williams, a pair of free throws by Katie Simon and a mid-lane jumper by Moore with 3:50 left.
Duke, though, held Nebraska to just three more baskets and hit two jumpers and five free throws to move on to Tuesday's 7 p.m. game against Notre Dame for the right to go to the Final Four in New Orleans.
Hooper said the shot-blocking of 6-foot-3 sophomore Elizabeth Williams, a two-time ACC defensive player of the year who had seven blocks, made a difference in the game.
"She's a great player and early with those blocks it kind of scared us in the paint area, because she knew she could get a piece of the ball," Hooper said.
Yori added, "She is longer than you think. She can come from a long ways away. Lindsey drives and she almost always makes that shot and does not get blocked. But (Elizabeth Williams) did."
Elizabeth Williams blocked a scoop shot by Moore early in the game and blocked a shot by Emily Cady midway in the first half after NU took an 18-11 lead.
The Blue Devils temporarily broke their shooting slump at the end of the first half, when Elizabeth Williams scored and Alexis Jones added two short shots and a three-pointer to give Duke a 23-18 halftime lead.
The Huskers got as close as 32-28 with 13:10 left on a jumper by Hooper, but never could get any closer.
"Coach said not to use the word 'but,' but you can see we're similar to Duke, just shots didn't go in," Hooper said. "It's something to build on for next year."
DUKE 53, NEBRASKA 45
Three-pointers--3-24 (Cady 0-2, Hooper 0-7, Moore 1-8, Theriot 1-1, Laudermill 1-4, Jeffery 0-2). Field-goal percentage--30.3. Free-throw percentage--100. Team fouls--12. Assists--12 (Moore, 6). Turnovers--12. Steals--5 (Cady, 2). Blocked shots--5 (Cady, 3).
Three-pointers--4-16 (Jones 1-5, Jackson 0-2, Liston 3-5, Wells 0-3, Johnson 0-1). Field-goal percentage--32.8. Free-throw percentage--77.8. Team fouls--10. Assists--10 (Jones, 6). Turnovers--9. Steals--7 (Jackson 2, Liston 2, Vernerey 2). Blocked shots--10 (Williams, 7).
Reach Ken Hambleton at 402-473-7313 or email@example.com.