Two teams extremely familiar with each other fought until the very end in a Sweet 16 match for the ages that had one team screaming for joy after a comeback.
The No. 3 Wisconsin Badgers (17-3 Big Ten, 28-4 overall) took on Ohio State (10-10, 22-12) for the third time this season, in a match that was very different from the first two meetings. The Badgers fought back after falling behind 2-1 to claim the victory in five sets and advance to the Elite Eight.
The match started out as expected, with the Badgers dominating in the first set, keyed by their ability to find the openings in the Buckeye defense and then play stellar defense on their end. It looked like it would be another three-set sweep, like the previous meetings of the teams, after a commanding 25-15 win, but the Buckeyes had something else in store for UW.
Ohio State came out with a different kind of energy in the second and it showed, as they jumped out to an early 6-2 lead. The difference in the sets was the defense by the Buckeyes, as they were everywhere on the floor. The Badgers had difficulty finding the openings, like they had in the first. Ohio State increased their digs by six from the first set. The Badgers would not go away, but their comeback bid fell short as Ohio State won the set 25-22 and tied the match at one set apiece.
Things did not get any better for the Badgers in the third set, with the Buckeyes once again jumping out to an early lead. Even though Wisconsin was down again, they continued fighting and pushed the set into extra points, but were once again unable to complete the comeback as the Buckeyes took the lead 2-1 with a thrilling 31-29 win.
With their back against the wall, the Badgers looked like they would once again be eliminated in the Sweet Sixteen. They trailed 19-14, but then started another comeback. This time they would complete it. The Badgers stormed back, thanks to the serving of Amber McDonald as well as the defense stepping up when it was needed.
“She was just moving the ball around and really keeping them off guard,” head coach Kelly Sheffield said. “She gave us a huge lift.”
The Badgers took the fourth set in dramatic fashion that had everyone in the Field House on their feet and jumping around. But even though UW succeeded in a fourth set comeback, they still had a fifth set to play. It was then that the senior leadership of Wisconsin took over.
“She [Nelson] really got into the team in a way that captains and leaders do,” Sheffield said. “And the team followed her.”
Wisconsin finished the comeback with a 15-13 win and will play Stanford (15-5 Pac 12, 24-7 overall) in the Elite Eight Saturday at 5 p.m. in the Field House.