A balanced attack and great serving helped the No. 4 Wisconsin Badgers (17-3 Big Ten, 28-3 overall) pave their way to a berth in the Elite Eight with a 3-0 (25-16, 25-18, 25-17) beat down of the No. 13 UCLA Bruins (16-4 Pac-12, 25-6 overall).
The Bruins had only lost once in a sweep this season, but the Badgers were incredibly efficient on offense early. UCLA got off to a quick start in the first set to take an 8-5 lead, but Wisconsin came storming back on a 7-0 run helped from good serving pressure from junior Izzy Ashburn and big plays from sophomore Devyn Robinson and freshman Anna Smrek.
See you Saturday— Wisconsin Volleyball (@BadgerVB) December 10, 2021
We’re expecting great things! pic.twitter.com/4jPJ9J9h2P
With that 12-10 lead, Wisconsin faced some fight back from the Bruins, but kept them at arms’ length. Ashburn had an ace to make the set 19-14 and forced the Bruins to call their first timeout. Fifth year setter Sydney Hilley picked up an ace to make it 22-15 before Robinson fired home the set clincher.
At the end of the first set, UCLA’s Mac May was the most dominant offensive force with five kills, but UW had a balanced attack where six players had two kills while hitting .357 in the first.
The Badgers offense was even more efficient in the second, hitting .433 and taking a big lead to start with three early kills from fifth year Dana Rettke to go up 8-4.
UCLA fought back with a 4-0 run that put them up 13-12 with élan McCall back serving. UCLA added two more points and looked to be gaining momentum, but freshman Julia Orzoł had a huge solo block that tied the match 15-15. Then Izzy Ashburn guided the Badgers to a 3-0 run for a 17-15 lead.
There was some back-and-forth and a lot of challenges, but UW found itself up 22-17 thanks to a block from Smrek and Robinson. Orzoł fired home her second ace to give UW set point before Robinson finished it off with the final kill.
Orzoł was electric all night, making her presence felt all over the match. The Polish freshman had 11 kills, three aces, six digs and two blocks. Her fellow outside hitter Grace Loberg was one of three Badgers with eight kills — Rettke and Robinson were the two others — as she had another efficient night on offense.
The strut after a block >>@dana_rettke and @anna_smrekk know how to work the court!— Wisconsin Volleyball (@BadgerVB) December 9, 2021
Badgers up 9-5 in the second set pic.twitter.com/bI7EPRn1ow
The balance shown by the Badgers was in contrast to UCLA’s lack of it. Mac May led the match with 17 kills, but the Bruins had few other consistent options outside of the fifth year star. Much of that balance is thanks to Sydney Hilley, who had a double double with 30 assists and 14 digs.
In the third set, UCLA again started well to take a 6-2 lead but UW fought back again thanks to a serving 6-0 run from Ashburn punctuated with her third ace of the night to give the Badgers a 9-7 lead.
The final set after that was choppy, filled with challenges and stoppages that couldn’t quite dampen the Field House atmosphere. The Wisconsin team seemed to feed off the energy, including a great moment where the Badger faithful sang all of Build Me Up Buttercup during a lengthy challenge in the second set.
A challenge overturned a call in UW’s favor to give them a 20-16 lead then the stars finished off the Bruins. Loberg had a kill to put UW up 23-17 while Orzoł fired home her third ace. Robinson finished off the match with a kill and UW advanced to the Elite Eight.
The perfect kill doesn't exis-— Wisconsin Volleyball (@BadgerVB) December 9, 2021
Julia Orzoł doing her thing!
WATCH LIVE || ESPNU pic.twitter.com/bWCyPEWFkN
The only thing standing between Wisconsin and a third-straight Final Four appearance is a familiar foe: the Minnesota Golden Gophers. The No. 12 Gophers outlasted No. 5 Baylor in a five-set thriller to set up a Border Battle Elite 8 showdown in Madison.
Wisconsin won both matches, home and away, against Minnesota this season, but there is obviously still one more big match to be played. It will be Saturday at 7:00 p.m. CT on ESPNU at the Wisconsin Field House.