COLUMBUS, OHIO – The Big Ten entered the Final Four with a good chance to give the conference its 11th NCAA title and fourth in a row. But after the second-seeded Gophers were toppled by Stanford in Thursday's semifinals, No. 1 seed Nebraska was upset as well, swept by fourth-seeded Texas at Nationwide Arena.
The Cornhuskers won the 2015 NCAA championship, beating Texas before their home fans in Omaha. The four-time champions were trying to win back-to-back titles for the first time in school history, but the Longhorns' superior defense and strong hitting carried them to a 25-18, 25-23, 25-21 victory. Texas, the 2012 NCAA champion, will play Stanford in Saturday's title match.
"I've been to a lot of Final Fours, and this is the calmest I've been going into it,'' Texas coach Jerritt Elliott said. "I just had a feeling, with this group, that they would perform at a high level tonight. And they proved that.''
Nebraska, which was outhit .321 to .182, trailed for most of the first set as Texas closed it out on a 4-0 run. Over the first two sets, the Huskers logged 15 errors to the Longhorns' five. They held a 12-10 lead in the second set before Texas forged ahead with a 3-0 run, and the Longhorns did not trail again.
Nebraska led the third set 2-1 before five consecutive points gave Texas a lead it maintained the rest of the way. The Huskers (31-3) finished with 21 attack errors to eight for Texas (27-4).
The Longhorns, who have won two NCAA titles, will play in the championship match for the third time in the past five years.
Thursday's matches were scheduled to be televised on ESPN2 until Monday, when the NCAA announced they had been moved to ESPN. Stanford coach John Dunning was delighted to get a larger showcase for the sport, which has been drawing higher ratings for its tournament.
According to the NCAA, the three-year average for the NCAA volleyball tournament is 4.2 million viewers. The average audience has increased by 24 percent from 2012. Dunning hoped a thrilling Stanford-Gophers match would help boost ratings further.
"When I started coaching volleyball 42 years ago, it wasn't like this,'' Dunning said. "It's grown and grown and grown. And the more people get exposed to it, the more they'll love it.''
The semifinal matches drew an announced crowd of 16,670, sixth largest in Final Four history. Columbus is hosting the event for the first time. Nationwide Arena, home to the NHL's Columbus Blue Jackets, has a capacity of 19,565 for the Final Four.
The two largest crowds in Final Four history were recorded last year in Omaha. The Nebraska-Texas championship match drew an announced attendance of 17,561, and the two semifinals — the Gophers vs. Texas, and the Cornhuskers vs. Kansas — drew 17,551.