The score was 38-37 and the No. 2 Minnesota Gophers had just reached the 16th set-point in the second set against the No. 15 Oregon Ducks.
After a long rally, Minnesota unleashed its final kill and began to celebrate as the intense second set had finally come to close, gaining them a 2-0 lead over Oregon — so they thought.
Not wanting to accept the defeat just yet, Oregon head coach Matt Ulmer challenged one of Gophers’ final ball touches. The officials reviewed the tape and came to the agreement that Ulmer’s challenge would hold; the ball had indeed touched the ground amidst a pancake-save attempt by a Gopher.
With the overturned point, the score was tied at 38. Minnesota put up the first kill to make it 39-38. And after one last tie at 39, Oregon reach the 17th, and final, set point.
Thanks to back-to-back kills by redshirt sophomore Brooke Van Sickle, the Ducks evened the match (1-1) with the set win of 41-39 — the longest match for Oregon this season.
The momentum carried over as Oregon went on to defeat Minnesota two sets later for the second time this season. Yet this time, the win was much sweeter.
In the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 round, the No. 15-ranked Ducks (23-10) upset the No. 2 Minnesota Golden Gophers (27-4) Friday afternoon to reach the program’s Elite Eight since 2012.
In front of a sold-out crowd at the Maturi Pavilion in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Oregon’s four-set victory of 3-1 (25-21, 41-39, 25-14 and 26-24) gave the Gophers their second upset loss to the Ducks this season.
“For us, we want to play one point at a time," Ulmer said. "It’s easy to say and hard to do, and I thought tonight we really stayed in it. We are very confident in ourselves, we know that we can beat these teams, we also know that we can lose to these teams. But we are going to prepare like we are going to be playing another eight days. That’s our goal.”
Junior middle blocker Ronika Stone led Oregon with 20 kills on top of a hitting percentage of 0.500. Both senior outside hitter Lindsey Vander Weide and junior right side hitter Willow Johnson earned double-doubles: Vander Weide with 17 kills and 18 digs and Johnson with 15 and 10. Senior setter August Raskie earned her second triple-double of the season with 10 kills, 11 digs and 60 assists.
Despite a slow start in the fourth, the Ducks clinched their match win without having to play a fifth set. Minnesota started the set by launching an early 3-0 run, forcing Oregon into an early timeout. Oregon didn’t collect its momentum until a block by Stone tied the set at 14. A point later, a block by Taylor Borup gave the Ducks their first lead of the set at 15-14.
Knowing the match win was on the line, the Gophers stayed close and caught up with the Ducks at 19 each. Oregon resurfaced its energy and tied the Gophers again at point 23. Thanks to two attack errors from Minnesota, the Ducks reached match-point twice: once at 24-23 and again at 25-24. But unlike set two, Oregon cut the battle short, and with a final kill from Stone, the Ducks won the set (26-24) and claimed the match upset (3-1) over the Gophers.
“We were really disciplined again and we stayed in our position in the back and just kept calm,” Raskie said. “I don’t know, something about us tonight just decided that we were going to hold our positions, and everything that we’ve been working on we decided to put that all together tonight.”
Riding its momentum from set two, Oregon gained a 2-1 match lead after dominating the Gophers through a quick set three. Lauren Page began the set with three straight blocks to help Oregon take a 5-0 lead. Minnesota took its second timeout after a 4-0 Oregon run led to an eight-point deficit at 10-2. The Ducks didn't’ show signs of stopping, reaching an 11-point lead at 23-12. Minnesota never found its groove as Oregon took the third set win, 25-14, for the Gophers worst set loss of the season.
Minnesota’s only win of the match came in set one. The two teams started with back-to-back ties until the Gophers unleashed a 5-1 run to lead 12-8. The Ducks got within two at 15-13, but Minnesota never lightened the pressure. The Gophers won set one 25-21.
Oregon’s upset of Minnesota advances the Ducks’ to the tournament’s round of Elite Eight. The Ducks will take on the No. 7 Nebraska Huskies back at the Maturi Pavilion tomorrow afternoon at 3 p.m. PST.
Follow Maggie Vanoni on Twitter: @maggie_vanoni