Huskers Now Take Aim At Ducks

By Lincoln Arneal

After winning its second-round NCAA tournament match on Friday night, Nebraska had to wait an extra day to learn where it would play its next match and had to wait even longer to find out its opponent. 

With No. 1-seed Louisville defeating No. 8 Purdue, the Cardinals will host the regional round as the top seed remaining in the region. The Huskers (26-5) will take on No. 3-seed Oregon on Thursday at 10 a.m. Central. The Ducks won the last match on Saturday night. 

The early start is necessitated by a TV schedule where all eight matches will be televised on ESPNU or ESPN2. 

Nebraska last played in Louisville in 2004 when the top-seeded Huskers fell in five sets to No. 8 USC in the regional final. However, the last two postseason trips to the Bluegrass State resulted in better memories as NU earned final four trips after playing at Kentucky in 2015 and 2017. Both those seasons ended with national championships for the Huskers. 

The Huskers also played at Kentucky, the hometown of middle blocker Kaitlyn Hord, this season and earned a sweep.

This year will be the ninth time Nebraska will play Oregon. The Huskers are 6-2 all-time against the Ducks, with the losses coming early in the 2017 season and in the 2012 regional final. 

The winner between the Huskers and Ducks will play Louisville or No. 4 Baylor on Saturday at 3 p.m. This is the first year teams will get a rest day between the regional semifinal and finals. 

Before moving on to the next round, here are news and notes from the first weekend of the NCAA tournament. 

BEKKA’S WORLD Bekka Allick looked like a seasoned veteran in her first taste of the postseason. Nebraska’s freshman middle blocker amassed 13 kills on a .521 hitting percentage to go with 8 blocks and a couple assists. 

Allick said the postseason reminded her of her time with USA volleyball against tough competition. 

“It’s survival of the fittest,” she said. “Every point is a grind. It will never ever be handed to you.”

The bright lights have never intimidated Allick. Two of her best matches this year came against Wisconsin and Purdue. She amassed more than 6 blocks against Ohio State, Kentucky and Penn State. 

The other emotion Allick was feeling was gratitude. She said she is trying to stay focused on winning a title, take everything in along the way and learn from all the new experiences. 

“I’m so curious as to the kind of person I become,” she said. “This is one of those times where I think it’s really easy for someone in my position to shy away from it, or I could grow. I could go to a whole new level and put myself in an even better position next season. So I’m just really excited.”

After her response, NU coach John Cook leaned back in his chair and gave Allick a fist bump. Cook said he’s impressed with Allick’s perspective. He’s gotten to know her over the season on the court, in practices and at their twice-weekly dinners and enjoys her company. 

“It’s just Bekka’s world, and we’re just living in it,” Cook said.

BIG TEN BACK ON TOP — The SEC claimed bragging rights on Selection Sunday by earning seven bids to the NCAA tournament, the most of any league. However, the Big Ten is the top conference after the first weekend. 

The Big Ten’s six teams went 11-1 during the first two rounds with five teams making the second weekend. However, that number is guaranteed to drop as Wisconsin and Penn State play in the regional semifinal, as do Minnesota and Ohio State. 

The SEC had a successful first round as six teams won in the first round, including Auburn’s upset of No. 4 seed Creighton. Tennessee was the only SEC team that fell on the first night, losing to Purdue. However, only Florida and Kentucky survived to the second week.

The ACC, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC each have two teams still alive, while the American, Big East and West Coast Conference have a representative in the field.

MOSTLY CHALK — Whether it was home-court advantage or accurate seeding, the first two rounds resulted in almost all the favorites advancing. 

The only exception was No. 4-seed Creighton, which lost in the first round to Auburn in five sets. The Bluejays were without All-Big East setter Kendra Wait, who was out after taking a volleyball to the face in the Big East tournament final. 

No. 5 Houston took advantage and made its first regional appearance since 1994. The next longest absence from the Sweet 16 belongs to San Diego and Marquette, who last made the second week in 2018. Nine of the 16 teams also made the regional semifinals last year. 

In the first year the NCAA seeded 32 teams, the favorites went 26-6 in the first round. In addition to Auburn, Kansas knocked off No. 7 Miami, and Northern Iowa upset No. 7 Florida State.  

The eighth seed in each bracket had a rough opening round. Three of the four teams lost their opener as Georgia beat Towson, TCU topped Washington and LSU defeated Hawaii, all in four sets. Purdue was the only one to survive with a five-set victory over Tennessee.

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