MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Gophers volleyball team has bulldozed most of its opponents this season, but they’ve been run over themselves twice -- and one of the culprits is up next.
That would be No. 15 Oregon, which beat second-ranked Minnesota way back on Sept. 7, 3-1, during a tournament in Palo Alto, Calif. The teams meet again Friday, Dec. 7, with a trip to the Elite Eight on the line.
“I mean, they’re good,” Gophers coach Hugh McCutcheon said of the Ducks. “We knew they were good, and they’re still good.”
The Gophers (27-3) and Ducks (22-10) meet in a Sweet 16 match Friday at Maturi Pavilion.
In the season’s third weekend, then-No. 1 Minnesota was knocked off its perch by consecutive 3-1 tournament losses to Oregon and host Stanford. The No. 1-ranked Cardinal are now the top seed in the NCAA field.
McCutcheon and players Alexis Hart and Stephanie Samedy said the Gophers have come a long way since. In fact, they didn’t lose another match until falling 3-2 at Penn State on Nov. 23. In their 27 victories, the Gophers have been pushed to five sets only twice.
“I think our lineup is a little bit more stable than it was at that point,” McCutcheon said. “It was still a work in progress. … Like most teams throughout the season, you get your systems and find your offensive rhythm and those things are a little bit more set than they were perhaps then.”
Back in September, Oregon’s set victories all came by 25-23 scores; the Gophers won the third set 27-25. It was close, but the Ducks finished with more kills, assists, aces, digs and blocks.
“I just felt like a lot of errors on our side were happening,” Hart said. “We kind of weren’t hitting the ball in a lot, a lot of balls were dropping (defensively), a lack of communication. But I feel like if we just clean up on everything, we will be fine.”
The winner of Friday’s match will play Texas or Michigan in a regional final at 5 p.m. Saturday. The winner advances to the Final Four Dec. 13-15 at Target Center.
Samedy said the Gophers are better across the board — serving, attacking and blocking/defending — than the one that lost to Oregon and Stanford. “We’ve become more sound as a team,” she said.
McCutcheon is preparing for Oregon to be better, too. Of the Ducks’ 10 losses, seven were to ranked teams.
‘We were able to watch matches of some of their more recent games,” he said. “We will put together a plan and see. At this point in the tournament, everyone can play, so we are just trying to find the patterns and pick the lock and go out and play the best volleyball they can.”