Thrive and Advance: No. 9 Kansas Powers Past No. 25 Mizzou, Moves to NCAA Sweet 16
LAWRENCE, Kan. – Every time Missouri flexed a little muscle during Friday night’s NCAA Championship Second Round match, Kansas pushed right back, eventually overpowering its former rival in a three-set sweep at Horejsi Family Athletics Center (3-0; 25-16, 25-13, 27-25). Kansas advances to its second NCAA Sweet 16 in three years while keeping it’s unprecedented, magical season alive.
Hosting the NCAA tournament first and second rounds for the fourth-straight season, Kansas continued to cruise while running its’ season record to 28-2 and swept both Furman and Missouri to move on to next week’s regional round in San Diego.
Mizzou, ranked No. 25 entering the tournament, scored the first point in all three sets, but in each frame No. 9 Kansas responded with a show of force in a pivotal moment.
In the first set, Tayler Soucie turned in back-to-back blocks – the second an assisted denial with Anise Havili – to set the tone and give Kansas a 7-4 advantage. The Jayhawks would use two more blocks while pushing the lead to four at 9-5 before eventually rolling to a 25-16 first-set victory.
In the second set, Mizzou spurted out to a 3-1 advantage and looked to be settling in before a 50-50 ball at the net gave the Jayhawks another chance to assert themselves. Havili, the 5-foot-10 Big 12 Setter of the Year, went hand-to-hand with Missouri middle blocker Emily Thater, the tallest player on the floor at 6-foot-3, and pushed the point down in a one-handed tussle. That gave Kansas its first lead at 5-4 and the Jayhawks would later use a 12-2 run to put the second set away, 25-13.
Missouri bolted to an even bigger lead in the third set, scoring five of the first six points and led by as many as five at 7-2. Despite the best efforts from Kansas, that lead would stick until a timeout by KU with the Tigers up 18-13. The stoppage allowed Kansas to regroup and Tiana Dockery provided a kill on the left side down the line, but the teams traded services errors until Kansas cut it to 20-16.
Seemingly running out of time in the set, KU got a big boost with back-to-back crushing kills from Kelsie Payne to make it a two-point contest at 20-18, but couldn’t pull even before Missouri had its first shot at set point, 24-20.
Undeterred, Kansas got a kill from Soucie, 24-21. Mizzou’s second shot at set point went into the net, 24-22, then the third, 24-23. The Tigers fourth shot at set point was rejected by Dockery and Janae Hall, 24-24. Carly Kan logged the last of her team-leading 12 kills for Missouri to give the Tigers a fifth set point at 25-24, but another attack error re-tied the game. Payne used another thunderous smash to give Kansas it’s first lead of the set, then found a way to put down the game winner on her next attack.
Payne led all players with 16 kills and hit .500 for the match. Finished the match with 40 assists and added 12 digs – one of four Jayhawks with double-digit digs. Soucie, who had four blocks in the first set alone, led the match with seven total blocks – a major reason the Jayhawks held the Missouri attack to a mere .061 for the night.
The Jayhawks face Loyola Marymount next Friday, Dec. 11. On the other side of the San Diego bracket, No. 1 overall seed USC will play the winner of North Carolina and No. 16 Creighton, who compete in the second round on Saturday. Regionals are set for Dec. 11-12 at Jenny Craig Pavilion.
Kansas head coach Ray Bechard
“Just another day at the office, huh? When we talk about why we want to play matches in Horejsi, I think that’s a pretty good example why. Regardless of where we were, when you got a team that plays as good as we did in the first two sets, and come back against Missouri in the third to never lose faith, never lose sight of what we needed to do and making plays at the end, I think that’s about as thrilling of a finish as you’re ever going to see. I’m extremely proud of this group and proud to move forward, getting to represent the University of Kansas in the Regionals. I would also like to commend Missouri on a tremendous year. A lot of teams could come out after the break and lay down but they fought hard, but this group fought a little harder.”
On which was more impressive coming back in the third set or the way you guys played in the first two:
“It would be hard to discount the second set. You talked about a joust play and our blocking, and those are all momentum, that’s how you deflate other teams. Ainise kind of plays that off, but she wins 99 percent of those just because she’s a little Pitbull and she’s that competitive. She knows that’s what her team needs. Soucie set the tone in the second set the way she blocked. It’s hard to discount being down 24-20 and no panic on our side and making big swings when we needed to and with Maggie back there serving bullets. If we’re in trouble in a serving drill in practice, and they can pick one person to get us out of the drill, they’re going to pick Maggie Anderson because she does her job. She does so many things for us.”
On this team being more special than the previous Sweet 16 team:
“I think this teams equipped to make a little deeper run. We’re a little more balanced, and we have a player that can just take over a match like Kelsie Payne did. That’s good to have. I’m proud of the team that got us there the first time but this team was bound and determined to be unprecedented in all things.”
On Missouri being one of the best blocking teams and TCU preparing Kansas for MU:
“We thought there were seams we could go to and expose them a little bit. But they did a nice job of covering up. They did a good job on Rigdon but when Payne’s at the top of her jump, she’s hard to contain. Havili with 40 assists in three sets found her at key times.”
On ‘crashing the party’ by joining the typical NCAA tournament teams:
“We think Kansas has the opportunity to do that. They put in the work, they truly love each other and play hard. We haven’t had too many bad practices and I can’t really remember having too many bad matches. I could count them on one finger. We want to be an elite team and an elite program year after year and I think we’re on our way to doing that.”
On what was going through Bechard’s head when Kansas was down in the third set:
“We called a timeout. I just said ‘Guys, I don’t know if we’re going to win this third set but we need to start playing like we need to play. Forget the score board because if it goes to a fourth, we need to be playing well.’ I think that took a little pressure off of them. We just needed to do what we do and next thing you know we had a deuce game. I knew it was over then. We put the team in 22-20 situations in practice all the time. When you’re down 22-20, now you have to make plays. That’s what they said in the timeout, it’s just like the drill in practice. Let’s do it.”
Sophomore S Ainise Havili
On the team’s energy on first two sets:
“Yeah, I think the crowd helped out with that a lot. We were amped before we even got here. We really pride ourselves on starting early, I don’t think we have lost a lot first or second matches this year, so that’s been great.”
On her setting skills to her teammates:
“I just kind of throw the ball up there and hope somebody is there. They did a really good job of putting balls away from me.”
Sophomore RS Kelsie Payne
Making the third set comeback down 20-24:
“I think we all made an effort that we were going to get it done. We were down but I don’t think anyone had a thought in their mind that we couldn’t do it or we couldn’t come back from it. I think we played really well and that’s what happened.”
On if the team’s first two sets were their best of the season:
“I don’t know, it was pretty good. Everything was flowing really well. I just felt natural and we were all just really in tune with each other.”
Junior MB Tayler Soucie
On players bringing energy to the game:
“I have been on a lot of teams where you have to try to drive energy out of people and I think over in Europe we got to know each other a little better and I think we got too be more comfortable around each other so we can bring out our weirdness. We are just comfortable with each other and my teammates push me all the time, so it’s great to have the energy from everybody and feed off of each other so much that it’s just really helpful.
On Maggie Anderson making crucial serves in the third match:
“She is our clutch server, we call her that during practice. So knowing that she was coming in and we can count on her and she is going to get the ball where it needs to go. If we all do our jobs, we don’t give up the fight.”
Missouri head coach Wayne Kreklow
“Obviously not the result that we wanted but I am incredibly proud of this group and what they’ve been able to do this year. I told them in the locker room to think about where we were the first week of August; where we started and where we ended up is pretty remarkable story. We were picked to finish 7th in the league and to actually compete and having a shot at a chance to share the conference title and then advancing to the Tournament and making it to the second round, just really proud of them. I thought we had a great season and Kansas played a great match tonight. They did a lot of things really well and I felt like the third game, and told the girls this in the locker room, but a lot of these situations, when you haven’t played this team before, you can look at video and practice stuff but there’s no substitute for actually getting out on the floor and actually doing it. I felt like in the third game we finally started figuring out timing, rhythm and just how to play the game. I thought we had a shot at winning that third game and pushing it to four but they made some really great plays down the stretch and they earned it. They’ve had a great season and they’re a really good team.”
On Kansas’ team:
“They sure make it tough because that’s what makes them good. If you’re talking about somebody that’s done as well as they have, as well as they are, you can’t have an obvious weak link. I thought they did an exceptional job in the back row tonight. Their defense was outstanding. That really makes it tough. We got some pretty good swings and they made some fantastic defensive plays. They’re just really good back there. They cover a lot of ground and it’s tough to put a ball down. You have to be patient and keep attacking but when they’re able to do that it makes the margin for error pretty small.”
On playing aggressively:
“We talked about this in a lot of timeouts. You have a lot of young kids and I felt like the failsafe in that situation is that people tend to get conservative. They don’t want to make mistakes and be the one that makes a bad play so everyone gets safe. The constant message al l the time is we have to attack; we have to keep tempo up. We’ve got to take chances. You have to be comfortable taking chances even if you take an error. I think we did a better job of it and that changed the game. They’re long and their quick at the net so if we’re just setting high balls we have two solid blocks set up. That makes it tough. When you defend well around that it makes it really difficult to terminate plays. I felt like in the third set we started to do that more, going back to the middle, lowering the ball to Carly [Kan] more, so that helped a lot and I think that’s what put us in a position to win that game.”
On their 24-20 lead in the third set:
“I felt like we were in a good position to win but you still had to make plays. It was going to take a really good swing. They were blocking really well, playing great defense in the back row. They made some great plays.”
On the Kansas-Missouri rivalry:
“To be honest, it was a great competitive match. It was a cool collegiate environment. The fact that it was KU, I think the fans got into that more than the actual players did but it was a tournament match with two pretty good teams going at it and taking their best shots at each other. Unfortunately we didn’t get the result but I think it was a great experience for our kids.”
On Kansas’ blocking:
“We made it easy in the first set for them to block because we were high, predictable and we weren’t passing that well. The key is that you have to split them. You have to make them make decisions to move and if you can do that, which we did in the third game, we turned the tables a little bit more, they were out of system a little bit more, we got more blocks so it’s just that back and forth. In the first two games they did a good job of keeping us out of system and allowed them to get the big hits and that’s what you want so we played into their hands in the first two. We were able to make some changes and do some different things in three. They’re long, they get over quick.”
On if Kansas targeted their serves:
“I think at times they were picking and choosing but that’s just what you do. That’s what we do. You’re probing, trying this person and that person. You go in with a game plan of who you want to go after and if it works, you stay with it and if it doesn’t you have to adapt and adjust. I think early on they were going at Carly [Kan] and they served to Lex [Alexa Ethridge] a few times. I think a few times when she struggled a bit and they saw an opening and went at it but I think she did a great job of regrouping and really steadying up and doing a good job. You try to find somebody or something to go after.”
On Kansas’ defensive adjustments:
“The passers were passing in their deep zone pretty well so your next option is to find something else that disrupts their offense and disrupt their rhythm so we tried to drop a lot of balls short. That’s what it is. We adjust, they readjust, and we readjust to their readjustment so it’s just that back and forth. They were pulling up and when we went deep they were able to use their hands a bit so that’s part of the game. That game of chess; you move, they countermove and you just hope your kids can execute.”
Missouri junior OH Carly Kan
On today’s match:
“It’s a little disappointing that we couldn’t get that third set but I am just really proud of how my team fought at the end. We had a lot of heart in that third set and we were really pushing Kansas so I think we have something to be proud of. We just wanted to have fun and we did in that third set so I’m just proud of how the team responded.”
On playing in Horejsi:
“The whole time I was just really energized. Both bands were just yelling at each other and it was a really fun atmosphere. The whole place is really loud and that gym especially. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a louder gym than that so it was a cool experience because we haven’t really played in packed, small gyms so it was a good experience. We brought our own fans too and that was exciting.”
On Missouri’s serving:
“I think that we were serving pretty tough throughout the match. It got better in the third set but you have to give credit to their passers. We’re usually a really good serving team and the fact that they were still passing 3-point passes was really good. We are still going to keep working on serving and I think that’s still our strong suit.”
Missouri junior Emily Thater
On Missouri’s offense:
“I think our setters just did a really good job of making sure that Kansas’ blockers were on their toes with where we were going to go with our offense. I was just up and ready and if the ball came to me cool, and if it didn’t hopefully I could hold the block and get somebody a single. I think passing, our serve receive really stepped up tonight. I was really, really proud of them because Kansas was serving tough balls at us and I think we stayed composed and got ourselves some good offensive swings.”
On Kansas’ defense:
“They’re a good blocking team. I think that was, not rattling but frustrating. Our passers were doing a great job of keeping us in system and our setters were getting our hitters good looks and I think it’s just hard when two really good teams come together. Sometimes it just doesn’t go your way and Kansas had a great night tonight defensively and I think that’s something we can take away from this and file away for spring training and just remember to be prepared for that and to respond in a more aggressive way.”
On today’s match:
“It’s always hard knowing the ball is in your court. They made great defensive stops, they served aggressively. We just have to give credit to a great team that stepped up at the right time and I think we had the opportunity. Our libero, Lex, said in the locker room to remember this feeling and we have a whole year to prepare for next year and to make sure that if we are in this situation again we’re ready for it and we know what to do, just stay aggressive and put it away and finish.”?
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