Kylie McCulley had 12 kills in the NCAA opener
Dec. 5, 2008
Champaign, Ill. - PHOTO GALLERY
Illinois turned up the wick defensively en route to a straight sets 25-8, 25-16, 25-20 victory over Milwaukee in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament at Huff Hall. The Illini (25-7) used a fast start and a 13-4 advantage in blocks to take the match and set up a second round showdown with Big East regular season champion Cincinnati Saturday at 7 pm.
Johannah Bangert had 10 block assists and Michelle Bartsch added six blocks assists as Illinois held Milwaukee (23-9) to a .017 attack percentage. Kylie McCulley paced Illinois offensively with 12 kills and a .241 hitting percentage while All-Big Ten performer Laura DeBruler added 10 kills.
Illinois hit .310 in a scintillating start to the match. The Illini burst to leads of 6-0 and 11-2 en route to taking the opening set. The Illini posted three aces, one apiece from DeBruler, Abby Nelson and Lizzie Bazzetta in the set.
Sets two and three were a little tougher for Illinois as Milwaukee used strong serving to post a threat. The Panthers forced seven Illinois hitting errors in the second set and used back-to-back kills from Mary Beth O'Brien to pull even at 7-7. Illinois again used the serving arm of DeBruler to score six straight points and take a 16-9 lead. Bangert teamed up with both Bartsch and McCulley for a pair of blocks in the rally. McCulley served the final three points for the Illini.
"That was one of the better serving teams that we've faced all season," Illinois head coach Don Hardin said. "Our passers were challenged on their movement and as a result our setters were scrambling around and we sputtered on offense. Thank goodness our block was in true, dominant fashion. I thought our aggressive blocking got us over the hump today. It seemed like a much easier win than it would've otherwise."
"Kylie was definitely important in those first two sets," Hardin added. "We were spreading the ball around a little bit. She's been working on her athleticism these last two weeks and her foot has been good enough to train in practice."
Milwaukee's Becky Peters had five of her team-high nine kills to make an even bigger threat in the third set, but as has been the case in recent weeks, when DeBruler gets rolling as the match goes along. The sophomore had six kills in the third set, while Illinois had six block team blocks. Ashley Edinger, who paced Illinois with 13 digs, had some nice saves in the third set.
After back-to-back blocks from the tandem of Bartsch and Bangert, Illinois led 13-10, but Peters' pair of kills tied the score at 15-15. Illinois, though, scored four straight points, the final on a McCulley ace to make it 19-15 and Milwaukee never threatened after that.
Illinois will be looking for its third trip to the Sweet 16 on Saturday, the third in Hardin's 13 years when the Illini meet Cincinnati.
"We just have to keep continuing on getting better on things," Hardin said of the match-up "We didn't move well on serve receive tonight and Cincinnati is a very good serving team. They have three jump servers that move the ball around a lot. We're going to have to be more active on our serve receive."