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Thursday, June 13, 2024
Senior hitter Lauryn Gillis helped keep UW alive in a back-and-fourth set that served as a major turning point in Wisconsin's match on Sunday.

Senior hitter Lauryn Gillis helped keep UW alive in a back-and-fourth set that served as a major turning point in Wisconsin's match on Sunday.

Badgers wallop Washington State, secure spot in Sweet 16

If there is one lesson to be learned from the first two rounds of the 2016 NCAA tournament, it is that Wisconsin’s defense succumbs to no one.

One night after holding its first round opponent Howard to an abysmal .050 hitting percentage in a winning effort Thursday at home, Wisconsin’s defense continued to dominate, as the No. 3-seeded Badgers (17-3 Big Ten, 28-4 overall) dismantled the Washington State Cougars (12-9 Pac-12, 22-13 overall) in a 25-18, 25-18, 25-17 sweep at the Field House Friday night.

Wisconsin stymied Washington State from top to bottom, shutting the Cougars down at every turn. The stingy UW defense rendered the opposing offense lifeless, as WSU only managed to muster a mere .064 hitting percentage against Wisconsin and was out-blocked by the Badgers 13-6.

"I think our team just keeps getting better and better,” head coach Kelly Sheffield said after the match. “With that firepower that they have, and you hold them to hitting zero those last two sets and under .100 for the match, I think you have to feel good about how our defense is playing.”

If senior setter Lauren Carlini was still feeling the effects of an injury that forced her to miss some time during Thursday’s contest, she showed no signs of it Friday night. The All-American looked like her usual self, piling up a match-high 33 assists while also chipping in nine digs. With Friday’s win, Carlini is set to make her fourth-straight trip to the Sweet 16, an achievement that she believes serves as a testament to the success of the program.

“Every year we want to be having continued success and building on the previous year,” Carlini said. “Obviously we made it to the National Championship our freshman year and that is going to be our goal every year.”

“We want to help make this a program where we are competing for some sort of championship and have that sustained success over long periods of time."

Much like they did in the Howard match, the Badgers looked dialed-in from the jump, racing out to a 10-7 lead to open the match. After getting out in front, Wisconsin put its foot on the gas, riding a 7-1 run to open up a comfortable lead that proved too great to overcome. Despite making a late push and fending off set point twice, a potential Cougars’ comeback bid fell flat, as sophomore middle blocker Tionna Williams came up with a kill for the decisive point to finish off the set and give the Badgers a 1-0 lead.

It was more of the same in the second set. The Badgers’ defense took center stage on its way to recording five blocks and completely demoralizing the Cougars, who failed to cash in on a single attack in the set, amounting to a hitting percentage of zero. Junior hitter Lauryn Gillis, who tallied a set-high four kills, was key in breaking WSU out of system in order to counter an intimidating front line that ranked No. 3 in the Pac-12 in blocks.

"After the first set, Lauren and I chatted and pulled the set off,” Gillis said. “ It's easier for me to see the court whenever that sets a little bit off with that big of a block and so we did that, made that adjustment, and then just continued to move shots around.”

Having gained a two-set cushion, Wisconsin coasted past the Cougars and into the next round with a resounding victory in the final set. Leading 10-5, two WSU attack errors would spark the Badgers on a 5-0 run. With the match all but over, Carlini put Wisconsin up 20-12 with a vicious kill that brought the crowd to their feet. Shortly thereafter, the Cougars went on a 4-0 surge and stopped the Badgers on match point twice. But the late rally would fall short, as WSU committed an attack error on the final point and handed Wisconsin its second sweep in as many nights.

Wisconsin will host the Sweet 16 match at the Field House next weekend. The Badgers’ opponent and start time have yet to be determined.

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