FRESNO, Calif. — For the third straight season, Dukes season fell one step shy of reaching the Final Four of the NCAA womens basketball tournament, losing to Stanford 81-69 in the regional final Monday night. Lacking pressure along the perimeter to rattle Stanfords 3-pointer shooters or to harass the post-entry passers and compliment Dukes fronting defense, the Blue Devils got exposed early and spent most of the night playing from behind. With the first eight minutes, No. 2 Duke trailed by double digits then couldnt come any closer than eight points before top-seeded Stanford locked up a 81-69 victory in an Elite-Eight matchup at the Save Mart Center. Duke (27-6) simply had no answer to combat Stanford star Nnemkadi Ogwumike down low throughout the game or the Cardinals hot 3-point shooting in the first half. The 6-foot-3 Ogwumike, ranked eighth in the nation in scoring and considered possibly the top pick in the next WNBA draft, led all scorers with 29 points on 11-of-15 shooting. Stanford also made 5 of 11 shots behind the arc in the first half before its 3-point shooting sizzled down to 38.9 percent. Guard Chelsea Gray led Duke with 23 points and shot 9-of-9 from the free-throw line. Duke reduced Stanfords lead to eight on three occasions midway through the second half on three-point plays most notably by Gray first then by Shay Selby but failed to score on a couple of critical possessions after to build momentum. After Grays three-point play cut Stanfords lead to 52-44 with 10:38 remaining, Toni Kokenis buried a 3-pointer to put the Cardinal back up by double figures Shays three-point play made the score 55-47 in Stanfords favor. Duke then kept Stanford scoreless on its next three possessions. But the Blue Devils couldnt score, either. And a Chiney Ogwumike basket put the Cardinal back up by 10. Duke last trailed by eight with 5:44 remaining on a Gray field goal. But again, Nnemkadi Ogwumike responded with a layup to keep the Blue Devils at a distance. Duke led just once, 4-2 with 1:16 in the game, before Stanford went on a 20-6 run that was highlighted by a pair of 3-pointers from Joslyn Tinkle. Duke also had trouble keeping Stanford off the boards early on with Duke center Elizabeth Williams able to box out only one of the two Ogwumike sisters. Nnemkadi Ogwumike got free for two quick putbacks as the Cardinal moved ahead 28-14 with 7:36 remaining in the first half. Chiney Ogwumike recorded a game-best 18 rebounds, to go with her 12 points. Stanford won the rebound margin 36-35. Stanford closed out the first half on an 8-2 run aided by a 3-pointer from Amber Orrange then by Taylor Greenfield to enter halftime up 40-25. Stanford (34-1), winner of 32 straight, will now play in its fifth straight Final Four and is aiming for its first national title since 1992. Duke was hoping to reach its first Final Four since 2006. As Mondays game neared a close and a Stanford-dominated crowd rose to its feet to give the Cardinal a loud applause, Duke starters were subbed out and tried to cover their saddened faces with their jerseys. Another Duke season ended on the brink of the landing on the big stage.