2017 NCAA TOURNAMENT – STANFORD REGIONAL
- December 8-9, 2017
- Regional Semifinals (Sweet 16)
- Stanford, California
- Tournament Central
How they got here:
- #3 Stanford swept CSU Bakersfield and Colorado State at home
- Wisconsin swept Marquette and #14 Iowa State on the road
#3 STANFORD DEF. WISCONSIN 3-1 (22-25, 25-20, 25-21, 25-19)
- #3 Stanford improves to 29-3; Wisconsin falls to 22-10
- Attendance: 2,510
- Box Score
The third-ranked Stanford Cardinal kept their back-to-back title hopes alive with a four-set win over Wisconsin to reach the Regional Final. That Elite Eight appearance will come tomorrow night as Stanford is set to meet #6 Texas in a rematch of the 2016 NCAA National Championship match.
It was Stanford upending Wisconsin last year in the Elite Eight and early on the Badgers looked ready to return the favor. Both offenses came into this match with lethal offensive backgrounds. The sum of it was a .436 hitting percentage for Stanford on the day compared to .315 for Wisconsin. As a result, neither team had many digs (40-36 in favor of Stanford) while both had vanilla serving days (five aces: 12 serve errors for Stanford and four aces: 13 serve errors for Wisconsin).
Those high-powered attacks were apparent in the opening set too, as Wisconsin hit .593 and Stanford hit .400 in the first game. On Wisconsin’s behalf, Grace Loberg had seven of her career-high 20 kills (.341) while Dana Rettke logged six of her 13 kills (.360) on six swings. It also marked the third straight match – all coming in the NCAA Tournament – that Loberg has set a new career-mark for kills.
The defending National Champions responded to the test in the second game as it was their electric offense coming out on top. They rode the backs of National Player of the Year candidate Kathryn Plummer (22 kills, .425, nine digs, five blocks) and Pac-12 Setter of the Year Jenna Gray (53 assists) in a set where they hit .471. Also key though was libero Morgan Hentz (14 digs, five assists), who had some remarkable digs in limiting Wisconsin to a .270 game and a 25-20 set victory to even the match 1-1.
The Cardinal finally found a bit of an answer in defending Rettke as after the first set she had just four kills with three attack errors on 14 swings (.071) in sets two and three combined. Not only that, but Stanford established their own 6’8″ option in Merete Lutz (16 kills, .560, three blocks) in the third and through the end of the match as she was vital in a 4-0 run to give the Cardinal a 17-13 lead. From there, they never let go of the advantage, although the Badgers did encroach on the lead at 20-19 after a Sydney Hilley (47 assists) ace and at 21-20 after another Loberg kill. Plummer once again took over the set and had two straight kills that helped push Stanford to a 25-21 finish and a 2-1 lead.
The fourth was all Stanford’s too after a run coming in the middle of the set boosted their lead toward the finish line. Loberg, Tionna Williams (nine kills, .300) and company did their best to keep the Badgers into it, but the Cardinal had too much Plummer, Lutz and Audriana Fitzmorris (eight kills, .444, five blocks) as they won the set 25-19 to take the match 3-1.
The Badgers came into this NCAA Tournament as a sleeping giant after just getting edged out for a national seed. They immediately proved the committee wrong with a sweep of Marquette and #14 Iowa State on the road. They proved how dangerous they really were in the first set vs. Stanford and throughout by challenging the Cardinal. While their season does come to a close, they have a very bright future with 13 players who are sophomores or younger – although Lauryn Gillis (five digs) and Kelli Bates (eight kills, .271) will be sorely missed.
While Wisconsin’s season comes to a close, Stanford is hoping there’s still has three matches left. No matter what though, tomorrow’s Regional Final at 10 p.m. ET will be their last home appearance as they play host to #6 Texas. Beyond an opportunity at another Final Four, it will be a chance for the Cardinal to repeat their dominant performance over Texas from a year ago. They’ll need to be on their best game though in a matchup of Pac-12 vs. Big 12 champions.
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