Hardy's shot helped the Huskers escape with a win after Drake stormed back from a 14-point deficit with six minutes to play to take a two-point lead on Jill Martin's three-pointer with 1:43 left in the game.
But Hardy answered with her 74th three-pointer of the season to finish the game with a team-high 18 points. Senior point guard LaToya Howell sealed the win with a pair of free throws with 26 seconds left to help the Huskers advance to the second round of the WNIT for the third straight season.
Nebraska Coach Connie Yori said she was pleased with the outcome.
"That was fun," Yori said. "It is nice to have Kiera Hardy on your team to step up and hit shots and she did that again tonight. I thought our effort was very good. We didn't play our best game but I thought we played hard and got the win."
With the victory, Nebraska improved to 18-12 on the year and will advance to the tournament's second round to face the winner of Saturday night's game between Wyoming and Oregon State, which will be played in Laramie, Wyo., with an 8 p.m. central time tip-off. The location and game time of the game may not be determined until after that game.
Drake finished its season 17-12.
Hardy, a two-time first-team All-Big 12 guard, continued her solid postseason career by scoring 18 or more points for the fifth consecutive time. The 5-6 native of Kansas City, Mo., added five assists and four steals and kept her career postseason scoring average above 20 points per game.
Howell added one of her best efforts of the season with nine points, seven assists, four steals and four rebounds, including a huge offensive board late in the game to set up her two free throws to ice the win.
Sophomore forward Danielle Page added nine points, three rebounds and two blocked shots, while freshman guard TK LaFleur pitched in eight points and four boards in another strong effort off the bench.
Nebraska dominated the flow of play, attempting 19 more field goals than the Bulldogs by forcing 22 Drake turnovers. The Huskers did not commit a single turnover in the second half, finishing the game with just five miscues.
Despite the lopsided margin in attempts, the Huskers were unable to put away the Bulldogs after shooting just 38.2 percent (26-68) from the field and just 53.8 percent (7-13) at the free throw line.
Drake kept it close by hitting 46.9 percent (23-49) from the field, including 37.5 percent (6-16) from three-point range. The Bulldogs also hit 87.5 percent (7-8) of their free throws. Drake also won the battle of the boards, outrebounding NU, 43-30, but the Huskers pulled down 11 offensive boards compared to just seven for DU.
Hardy and Howell led the Huskers with strong first halves to help NU take a 29-25 lead into the locker room at halftime.
Hardy hit double figures in the opening seconds of the second half to give the Huskers a six-point lead, before Drake's Jill Martin shot the Bulldogs into a tie with nine straight points.
Tied at 34, Howell gave the Huskers the lead back before Jessica Gerhart knocked down a jumper to push NU's cushion back to four points. Moments later, Hardy hit back-to-back jumpers to extend NU's lead back to six points with 13:19 to play.
After a Lindsay Whorton basket for Drake, Gerhart, LaFleur and Page teamed up for an 8-2 spurt to push Nebraska's lead to double digits at 51-41 with 7:38 to play. The Huskers took their largest lead of the game at 55-41 on a basket by Gerhart with just over six minutes left before the Bulldogs mounted a furious rally.
Jordann Plummer scored before Whorton drained a pair of three-pointers and Plummer added another basket to slice NU's lead to just 55-51 with 4:05 left in the game.
LaFleur ended Drake's 10-0 run with a runner in the lane, but the Bulldogs kept fighting, as Brandy Dahir hit a jumper before Linda Sayavongchanh converted a traditional three-point play to cut NU's edge to just 57-56 with 2:34 left.
Martin capped the Drake comeback with a three-pointer to give the Bulldogs a 59-57 lead with 1:43 play. But Hardy's heroics made sure the Huskers walked away winners with her huge three-pointer to win just seconds later.
Martin finished with a game-high 20 points and 11 rebounds,
while Whorton added 13 points and eight boards for the Bulldogs. Sayavongchanh
finished with 12 points and five rebounds.