SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's women's volleyball team will have nightmares for a while of the wall set by unseeded Pittsburgh's Sabrina Starks and Jordan Lockwood in Thursday night's second round loss of the NCAA Tournament in Omaha, Nebraska.
The Panthers beat the No. 14 Utes in straight sets to claim the upset sweep, 25-16, 25-18, 25-19, and to unseat the first seeded team in the tournament. Starks and Lockwood combined for 10 blocks to out-block Utah 10-5 on the night and were an early thorn in Utah's attempted attack.
The duo set the tone early on defense as the Panthers held the Utes to a .107 hit percentage in the opening set.
And though the defense was on point for the Panthers, who advance to their first-ever regional semifinal with the straight-sets upset, it was the offensive attack of Chinaza Ndee and Kayla Lund that set the stage for the win. The pair finished with a combined 32 kills and .500 hitting percentage.
Pittsburgh opened the night with the first point of the match and never relinquished control against Utah that struggled to look comfortable until the final set of the night. Utah managed to take an early 3-1 lead in the opening set, but it was short lived as Pittsburgh eventually went on a 15-5 run to take a 17-10.
From there it was all a formality for the Panthers, who went on to win the first set 25-16 with 15 kills and .300 hitting.
The second set wasn't any better for the Utes who struggled, again, to contain the wall established by Pittsburgh while struggling to contain the Panthers' attack. But there was hope near the midway point when Pac-12 player of the year Dani Drews and Kennedi Evans had a block to give Utah a 3-0 run and a 14-13 lead to force a Panthers timeout.
But the timeout reset was all the Panthers needed to regroup and win the second set. The Panthers went on two separate runs, a 4-0 run and another 3-0 run, to pull away for the commanding lead and one step closer to the upset.
Utah saved its best performance of the night for the final set and were locked up with the Panthers until an 18-17 deficit to force a Pittsburgh timeout. Once again, the timeout was all Pittsburgh needed to stall Utah's short-lived momentum. The Panthers used a 7-2 run to outscore the Utes and claim the final set and the victory to advance to the regional semifinal against No. 3-seeded Minnesota, which swept Georgia Tech earlier Thursday (25-19, 25-21, 25-18).
Drews led the Utes in the loss with 20 kills, seven digs and one block, and Kenzie Koerber added 10 kills, nine digs and two assists. But Utah struggled to limit the errors on the night and finished with 16 attack errors, five service errors and two block errors. The Utes also allowed five service aces to their zero on the night.