As exciting as it was to knock off the nation’s No. 1 team, Oregon coach Matt Ulmer isn’t reading too much into the Ducks’ 3-1 victory over the Gophers on Sept. 7.
“We only outscored them by four points in the match,” Ulmer said. “So it wasn’t like, ‘Wow, we’re so good.’ ”
Oregon (22-10) was one of only three teams to beat the Gophers this season, winning 25-23, 25-23, 25-27, 25-23 on a neutral court in California. They meet again Friday in the NCAA regional semifinals, this time on the Gophers’ home floor at Maturi Pavilion. Ulmer recalled the September match as “a battle,” and he expects another one.
“Minnesota is a fantastic team, and we never felt good the whole time,” said Ulmer, whose Ducks beat New Mexico State and Baylor to get to the Sweet Sixteen. “Both teams just kept fighting. We were able to make some plays down the stretch more than they were.”
Coach Hugh McCutcheon said his Gophers were “a work in progress” at that point, when they were ranked No. 1 for one week. They have gone 22-2 since then, while the Ducks are 17-8.
“It gives us a sense of confidence that we have beaten [the Gophers],” Ducks outside hitter Lindsey Vander Weide said. “But I think this is going to be a lot different, playing on their home court.”
Nebraska coach John Cook believes the Cornhuskers, winners of their past 10 matches, have improved more over the course of the season than any team in the nation. He also declared they are “better in some areas” compared to the Huskers teams that won NCAA championships in 2015 and 2017, despite incorporating eight new players.
Nebraska is holding opponents to a .132 hitting percentage, best in the nation, and its own accuracy has surpassed .350 in each of its past five matches. Senior co-captain Mikaela Foecke expects to see the seventh-seeded Huskers reach an even higher level in Friday’s semifinal against 10th-seeded Kentucky.
“We’re still working toward playing our best volleyball,” Foecke said. “We’re definitely not there yet. That’s a huge thing for us, that we haven’t peaked at all.”
• Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns, who played at Kentucky for one year before moving to the NBA, watched the Wildcats practice Thursday and wished the team well.
• Kentucky assistant coach Anders Nelson, a native of St. Croix Falls, Wis., worked with the Gophers as a student statistical analyst from 2006-08. His sister, Meredith Nelson Uram, was a second-team All-America pick for the Gophers in 2006.