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Wisconsin volleyball vs. UCLA: how to watch, match preview, open thread

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The Sweet 16 is back in Madison and the Badgers welcome the Bruins to the Field House.

Greg Anderson for UW Athletics

For the ninth time in the last nine years the Wisconsin Badgers volleyball team is preparing for a Sweet 16 matchup in the NCAA Tournament. On Thursday afternoon, the No. 4 Badgers (27-3 overall) face the No. 13 UCLA Bruins (25-5 overall) at the UW Field House in Madison.

In the other Madison Regional semifinal, which takes place right before the Badgers match, the No. 5 Baylor Bears (22-5 overall) take on the No. 12 Minnesota Golden Gophers (21-8 overall). The winners move on to the Elite 8 match which will also be at the Field House and takes place on Saturday night.

The Badgers opened their tournament run with back to back sweeps over Colgate and FGCU last weekend. The Bruins swept Fairfield in the opening round and then battled their way to a five-set victory over UCF in the second round. Baylor swept Texas A&M-CC and Washington State while the Gophers swept South Dakota and Stanford in their respective early round matches.

Wisconsin is 11-7 all time in regional semifinals and UW has advanced to the regional final the last three seasons in a row, including two NCAA Final Four appearances. We will update this post on Thursday with all the info you need so you can be the smartest fan in your section/on your couch for the match.

How to watch/listen

First serve: Thursday 12/9, 4 p.m. CT

TV: ESPNU, Courtney Lyle (PxP), Karch Kiraly (Analyst)

Streaming: ESPN app; Watch ESPN

Radio: U100.9 FM, Jon Arias

Live stats: Here!

Arena: UW Field House, Madison, Wis.

Fun facts (according to the media guides)

  • The Badgers hold a 56-24 (.700) all-time record in the program’s 25th NCAA tournament appearance.
  • UW is 28-8 under head coach Kelly Sheffield in nine years in the championship, advancing to at least the Sweet 16 round of play each season, including three appearances in the Final Four.
  • UW is one of only three teams to advance to the Sweet 16 the last nine years in a row, joining Nebraska and Texas.
  • The Badgers are 11-7 in NCAA Regional semifinal rounds and 4-7 in regional final rounds. Wisconsin has advanced to the national semifinals four times, including the last two years in a row.
  • The Badgers have won at least 22 matches in each of the last eight seasons (except 2020-21), sharing that feat with seven other schools—BYU, Creighton, Florida, Marquette, Nebraska, Texas, and Washington.
  • Since losing the first set to the Huskers in the Big Ten title clinching match, Wisconsin has won its last 12 sets, its longest set-winning streak of the season. The Badgers have also won the last seven consecutive matches, including their last six home matches.
  • The Badgers lead the all-time series with UCLA, 3-2. Wisconsin is 3-1 against the Bruins in Madison and has won the last three times the two teams have played, including a sweep in the 2019 NCAA Tournament.
  • Wisconsin hit an impressive .422 (94-18- 180) on the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament, holding opponents to .126 (60-35-198). UW averaged 15.67 kills per set while foes put away just 10.00 kills per set.
  • Wisconsin leads the Big Ten and ranks seventh nationally with a hitting percentage of .298. The Badgers also rank second in the Big Ten and third nationally with 14.68 kills per set.
  • The Badgers also served well, scoring on nine service aces (1.50/set) while giving up only two aces (0.33/set).
  • Only four opponents have hit better than .200 against the Badgers this season all in the second half of the Big Ten season—Minnesota at .215 on Nov. 21; Northwestern at .246 on Nov. 14; Iowa at .288 on Nov. 6; and Purdue at .219 on Oct. 31.
  • Over the last four matches, foes are hitting just .106, including just .063 by Colgate on Dec. 3.
  • Wisconsin ranks No. 15 nationally and second in the Big Ten, allowing opponents to hit .158 on the season.
  • Twenty-six out of 30 opponents have hit below .200 against Wisconsin this season and five have hit less than .100, including two with negative hitting percentages.
  • Grad student OH Grace Loberg has double-figure kills in the five of the last six matches, including a match-high 15 kills vs. FGCU in the second round of the NCAA tournament while hitting .542.
  • Libero Lauren Barnes was dominant in the back row in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament. The graduate student recording 18 digs in both matches, averaging 6.0 digs per set on the weekend. She was also aced only once in 17 service receptions.
  • Barnes also became the 19th UW player to record 1,000 career digs. The fifth-year player has 1,517 digs in her career and 1,005 digs as a Badger.
  • Freshman OH Julia Orzol hit a career-best .611 (12-1-18) against FGCU in the NCAA second round match.
  • In NCAA play, freshman MB Anna Smrek is averaging 2.67 kills and 0.83 blocks per set while hitting .462.
  • This is UCLA’s third-straight and 38th overall appearance in the NCAA Division I Women’s Volleyball Tournament (they’ve only missed three tournaments EVER).
  • UCLA is 22-5 all-time in NCAA Regional Semifinal matches (5-5 in its last 10 Regional Semifinals dating back to 2004).
  • The Bruins have won four NCAA Championships in program history: 1984, 1990, 1991, 2011. They’ve appeared in seven title matches but have not advanced past the NCAA Regionals since 2011.
  • With her 25 kills and three aces against UCF last Saturday, Mac May climbed into both the top-three on UCLA’s career kills list (2,048) and career aces list (177).
  • May was honored as Pac-12 Player of the Year, Zoe Fleck was awarded Pac-12 Libero of the Year and head coach Michael Sealy garnered his first Pac-12 Coach of the Year accolade.

Potential Wisconsin starters

  • Lauren Barnes, 5-foot-6, super senior, libero, No. 1
  • Sydney Hilley, 6-foot, super senior, setter, No. 2
  • Devyn Robinson, 6-foot-2, sophomore, middle blocker, No. 10
  • Anna Smrek, 6-foot-9, freshman, right side, No. 14
  • Dana Rettke, 6-foot-8, super senior, middle blocker, No. 16
  • Grace Loberg, 6-foot-3, super senior, outside hitter, No. 21
  • Julia Orzoł, 6-foot, freshman, outside hitter, No. 22

Potential UCLA starters

  • élan McCall, 6-foot, senior, outside hitter/opposite, No. 0
  • Anna Dodson, 6-foot-5, redshirt sophomore, middle blocker, No. 2
  • Charitie Luper, 5-foot-9, freshman, outside hitter/opposite, No. 3
  • Zoe Fleck, 5-foot-6, senior, defensive specialist/libero, No. 4
  • Allison Jacobs, 5-foot-11, sophomore, outside hitter/opposite, No. 6
  • Shelby Martin, 5-foot-10, super senior, setter, No. 10
  • Mac May, 6-foot-3, super senior, outside hitter/opposite, No. 14