WEST LAFAYETTE, IND. - Gophers volleyball coach Hugh McCutcheon has stressed during the NCAA tournament a need for his team to rely on its talent and play with composure.
After a slow start, the Gophers did just that in a 3-1 victory over host Purdue in the semifinals of the West Lafayette Regional.
Minnesota's prize? A matchup with top-seeded Penn State at 3 p.m. Saturday for a trip to the Final Four.
To get that chance the Gophers had to overcome a hostile crowd, as a majority of the 3,966 in attendance were cheering for Purdue. The Boilermakers rode a wave of energy from that favorable atmosphere to win the first set, and to take a 7-2 lead in the second.
Minnesota (27-7) rallied to take a 20-19 lead, and eventually win the second set. While there were 11 ties over the final two sets, Purdue only held four brief, one-point leads.
"Yeah, there was an adjustment period," McCutcheon said, "but most of it was just adjusting to the fact Purdue was getting it done and we had to raise our level. When we got down in the second set, we had a little meeting in the timeout and tried to reset ourselves in terms of who we are and what we stand for out there.
"They were a little more composed and just went about playing the way we've been playing for a lot of the second half of the season."
The Gophers hit only .121 in the first set, .183 in the second, and .091 in the third set. In the final set the Gophers hit .389
"We weren't playing our game in the first set and we needed to get something going," said Gophers outside hitter Ashley Wittman, who had 14 kills. "The more energy and emotion we bring the better it helps our team."
The Gophers had a more balanced offensive attack than Purdue, as Daly Santana (16), Katherine Harms (15), Witt- man (14) and Tori Dixon (11) all finished with double-digit kills.
Purdue (23-11) was led by Ariel Turner's 26 kills, but no other Boilermaker had more than seven.
"[Minnesota] has some of the best arms in the country and they proved that down the stretch," Purdue coach Dave Shondell said.
The Gophers now turn their attention to No. 1 Penn State, which won both matches over the Gophers this season.
The Nittany Lions won 3-0 at Minnesota on Sept. 29; and posted a 3-1 home win over the Gophers on Nov. 2. Wittman had 12 kills for the Gophers in that match, a competitive 21-25, 19-25, 25-23, 21-25 loss.
"When the draw was made, we were very happy to be in this bracket," McCutcheon said. "We know Penn State and have a lot of respect for them, but I like the way we match up. We're going to have to play well to win tomorrow but I think we have a chance. We had opportunities [in the 3-1 loss] and if we can execute a little more cleanly, who knows? They're a great team and we'll go battle and see what happens."