SEATTLE -- It was their toughest challenge of the season but fourth-ranked Wisconsin handled it well as it downed No. 10 USC 21-25, 25-17, 25-17, 25-21 in the opening round of the Pac-12/Big Ten Showcase on Thursday night.
After falling in the first set, the Badgers (9-0) got their offense going to take the second and third sets. The Trojans came out strong in the fourth set, taking a 17-12 lead. Trailing 20-16, Wisconsin went on a 6-0 run to take a 22-20 lead on a USC (6-3) rotation error. A UW service error made it 22-21 before two kills by Haleigh Nelson keyed a 3-0 run and the win.
“I thought we made some excellent defensive plays there at the end, [Taylor] Morey and [Kelli] Bates especially,” head coach Kelly Sheffield said. “We got good touches at the net, made great digs and executed in transition.
“We beat a top-10 team and we felt that there were aspects of our game where we didn’t play very well. That’s why you play elite teams because you want to find out what you have to work on. I was proud of how we fought back in game four. We had some huge plays when the game was on the line.”
Despite a strong serving performance by the Trojans, Wisconsin won the match with a balanced offensive attack. Four players put away 10 or more kills behind a match-high 14 from Courtney Thomas. Haleigh Nelson (12), Dominique Thompson (12) and Kelli Bates (11) all added double digits while Ellen Chapman chipped in nine kills.
“We thought we could have some success in the middle and back behind (the setter) and we did,” Sheffield said. “I thought Bates did a great job of hitting against an awfully big block. We tried getting our middles and right sides involved. I thought Lauren [Carlini] did a great of executing our game plan.”
The Badgers hit over .300 for the seventh time this season, connecting on .320 percent (62 kills – 15 errors – 147 attempts) of their attacks. USC hit .173 (44-16-162) behind 12 kills from Ebony Nwanebu and 11 kills from Samantha Bricio.
Carlini put up a season-high 55 assists against the Women of Troy.
“We hit .320 against a pretty good blocking team and we outdug them by about 25 balls,” Sheffield said. “We executed a good part of our game plan.”
Wisconsin finished with an 88-65 advantage in digs behind career highs from Morey and Bates. Morey led all players with 29 saves while Bates added 19 digs for her second career double-double. Thomas (14 digs) and Carlini (10 digs) also recorded double-doubles.
The Trojans scored on 10 service aces with six coming in the first set while the Badgers had four aces, behind two from Carlini.
Wisconsin also outblocked USC 4-3.
Great balanced offense by UW with 4 players with 10+ kills - Thomas (14), Nelson (12), Thompson (12), Bates (11)— Wisconsin Volleyball (@BadgerVB) September 19, 2014
UW's 9-0 start ties for the fourth best in program history.
The Badgers struggled with serve receive in the first set as the Trojans had six service aces, including four by Bricio. The outside hitter had four consecutive aces to aid USC to a 16-10 lead. Wisconsin cut the lead to 18-17 off two kills by Bates and a block by Bates and Thompson but could get no closer.
“We had a bad matchup in [rotation] one and it was the same matchup in the fourth set,” Sheffield said about the large number of service aces. “[Bricio] is not only a good server but [it was] how she made the team feel in serve receive for the entire match, we were never comfortable. It was very on edge from our group. I’m not sure we were battling as well as we needed to.”
Wisconsin was able to handle the Trojans serve in the second set, scoring five straight to take a 12-7 lead. The Badgers led 22-14 in the period before USC went on a 3-0 run to pull within 22-17. Kills by Thompson and Nelson gave UW set point at 24-17 while a hitting error by the Trojans evened the match at one set apiece.
UW took a 14-10 lead in the third set and upped it to 17-12 on a kill by Chapman. Wisconsin led 22-16 before Bricio scored on another service ace but a Badger timeout iced the Trojan player as she sent her next serve into the net. Kills by Carlini and Chapman put Wisconsin up 2-1 in sets.
USC came out firing on offense in the fourth set, taking a 10-7 lead. The Trojans led 16-11 before the Badgers started their comeback. Trailing 20-16, Wisconsin’s 6-0 run was capped off by Southern Cal’s rotation error. Back-to-back UW kills kept the Badgers undefeated.
Wisconsin wraps up tournament play on Friday, taking on No. 5 Washington at 11 p.m. ET.
Career high digs by Taylor Morey (29) and @kellibates04 (19). Thomas (14) and Carlini (10) also in double figures.— Wisconsin Volleyball (@BadgerVB) September 19, 2014