Wow. What else can you say? This NCAA Tournament has been one of the most unexpected in quite some time. A look at the final match-ups of the 2011 season, to be played at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas:
Thursday, Dec. 15
NCAA National Semifinal #1, 7:00 p.m. ET: #9 Seed UCLA (28-6) versus #12 Seed Florida State (28-6). Live, ESPN2.
The Bruins defeated #8 Seed and four-time defending champ Penn State (3-0) before taking out top-seeded Texas in four sets in the Lexington Regional to reach the NCAA Semifinals for the first time since the 2006 season. UCLA claimed the 1984, 1990 and 1991 NCAA National Championships, also reaching the title match in 1981, 1983, 1992 and 1994. This will be the Bruins’ first appearance under head coach Mike Sealy, who also helped guide Hawaii to the National Semifinals in 2009 as an associate head coach.
Rachael Kidder (#11), who was named the Lexington Regional Most Outstanding Player after racking up a match-high 26 kills against the Longhorns, leads UCLA with 4.63 kills per set as Tabi Love (#3) and Kelly Reeves (#2) add in 2.74 and 2.10 kills per set, respectively. Lauren Van Orden (#5) directs the offense with 10.96 assists per set as Lainey Gera (#6) picks up 4.91 digs per set to lead the defense. Mariana Aquino (#12) tops the blocking chart with 105 total blocks, good for 1.11 blocks per set. As a team, UCLA is hitting .250 with 14.40 kills per set. 1.02 service aces per set, 15.71 digs per set and 2.49 blocks per set. By comparison, the Bruins are holding their opponents to hitting .157 with 11.69 kills per set, 0.74 service aces per set, 13.48 digs per set and 2.12 blocks per set.
The Seminoles defeated #5 Seed Purdue in four before outlasting #4 Seed Iowa State in five in the Minneapolis Regional to reach their first-ever NCAA National Semifinal. Florida State, under the direction of Chris Poole, is also the first team from the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) to ever reach the NCAA National Semifinals.
Minneapolis Regional Most Outstanding Player Jekaterina Stepanova (#3), who posted 20 kills on .378 hitting with nine digs against Iowa State, leads Florida State with 3.28 kills per set as Visnja Djurdjevic (#9) and Elise Walch (#23) chip in 2.86 and 2.09 kills per set. Duygu Duzceler (#20) and Sarah Wickstrom (#10) take turns directing the offense with 6.13 and 4.99 assists per set, respectively, as Katie Mosher (#2) tops the defense with 4.67 digs per set. Ashley Neff (#14) leads the team with 1.55 blocks per set as Sareea Freeman (#22) adds in 1.26 blocks per set. As a team, Florida State is hitting .261 with 14.03 kills per set, 0.94 service aces per set, 16.08 digs per set and 2.98 blocks per set. By comparison, the Seminoles are holding their opponents to hitting .186 with 13.35 kills per set, 0.91 service aces per set, 16.21 digs per set and 1.81 blocks per set.
UCLA leads the series with Florida State, 5-0, including 4-0 on a neutral court. The last meeting was a 3-0 Bruin win on Sept. 14, 1996.
National Semifinal #2, 9:00 p.m. ET: #3 Seed Illinois (31-4) versus #7 Seed Southern California (29-4). Live, ESPN2.
The Fighting Illini defeated Ohio State in four before taking out Florida on its home court in four to advance to their third-ever NCAA National Semifinals and the first in 23 years. Illinois reached back to back NCAA Semifinals in 1987 and 1988 under then-head coach Mike Hebert. In 2011 under current head coach Kevin Hambly, the Fighting Illini picked up their first 30-win season since 1992 and earned the highest NCAA seed in program history (3).
Gainesville Regional Most Outstanding Player Colleen Ward (#4) collected 23 kills on .500 hitting against the Gators, and ranks second on the team with 3.70 kills per set. Michelle Bartsch (#6) tops the offense with 3.83 kills per set and Erin Johnson (#12) adds in 2.13 kills per set. Annie Luhrsen (#11) directs the offense with 11.12 assists per set as Jennifer Beltran (#3) leads the defense with 4.10 digs per set. Anna Dorn (#5) heads the blocking list with 1.27 blocks per set as Johnson chips in 1.09 blocks per set. As a team, Illinois is hitting .262 with 13.75 kills per set, 1.17 service aces per set, 15.20 digs per set and 2.59 blocks per set. By comparison, the Fighting Illini are holding their opponents to .179 hitting with 12.84 kills per set, 0.99 service aces per set, 15.23 digs per set and 1.84 blocks per set.
The Women of Troy took out host and #10 Seed Hawaii in five before outlasting #15 Seed Pepperdine, also in five, to win the Honolulu Regional advance to their seventh NCAA National Semifinal appearance in the last 12 years. USC is making back-to-back NCAA Semifinal appearances for the first time since three consecutive berths from 2002-04, which included back to back NCAA titles in 2002 and 2003. This will be head coach Mick Haley’s 10th NCAA National Semifinal appearance, and his sixth at USC.
Honolulu Regional Most Outstanding Player Alex Jupiter (#7) led the Women of Troy with 17 kills, a career-high 29 digs, a personal-best-tying five aces and four blocks against the Waves, and leads the team for the season with 4.38 kills per set. Katie Fuller (#22) and Lauren Williams (#8) chip in 2.86 and 2.64 kills per game, respectively, as Kendall Bateman (#12) directs the offense with 11.98 assists per set. Natalie Hagglund (#3) picks up 5.09 digs per set to lead the defense while Williams tops the blocking charts with 87 blocks for the year, good for 0.81 blocks per set. As a team, Southern California is hitting .289 with 14.83 kills per set, 1.23 service aces per set, 15.74 digs per set and 2.09 blocks per set. By comparison, the Women of Troy are holding their opponents to hitting .178 with 12.11 kills per set, 0.68 service aces per set, 14.68 digs per set and 2.07 blocks per set.
The series between Illinois and USC is tied at 2-2 and the teams are meeting for the second time in the NCAA Tournament. The Women of Troy downed the Fighting Illini in straight sets in the 1985 regional semifinal in Kalamazoo, Mich. The last meeting was a five-set Illinois victory in 2004.
National Championship, Saturday, Dec. 17 at 8:30 p.m. ET. Live, ESPN2.
The winners of each of the two NCAA National Semifinal matches will vie for the title on Saturday night. A glimpse at the history behind the potential match-ups:
UCLA vs. Illinois: The Bruins lead the all-time series with the Fighting Illini 9-0. The last time the teams met was a 3-0 UCLA win in 1994 in Honolulu, Hawaii.
UCLA vs. USC: A storied rivalry in any sport between the schools, the cross-town rivals are relatively close in the series, with UCLA leading 52-46 all-time. The teams split this year during Pac-12 play, with the Women of Troy claiming the first contest 3-0 on Sept. 9 and the Bruins taking the rematch in four on Nov. 25.
Florida State vs. Illinois: The Seminoles lead the series 3-1, with the last meeting a 3-0 Florida State victory over then-No. 8 Illinois in 2009 at the New Mexico State Invitational.
Florida State vs. USC: The Women of Troy won the lone meeting between the two schools in straight sets in 2006.
What are your thoughts? Who is your pick to win it all Saturday night?