The faces may have changed, but the result didn’t as No. 5 Wisconsin secured its ninth straight victory over No. 1 Nebraska on Wednesday night, sweeping the Huskers at the UW Field House in Madison.
Without the departed All-Americans that served as the driving force in the previous eight wins, Wisconsin found a way to control the action throughout the night in a 25-23, 25-23, 25-18 victory, handing the Huskers their first conference loss and halting their winning streak at 11 straight matches.
The teams faced each other three times last season with seven of the 12 sets ending as deuce games. Nebraska won just one of those close sets and Wednesday night continued that trend with Wisconsin being two points better twice more.
The Badgers (16-3, 10-1 Big Ten) won the serve-and-pass battle in a big way, serving up six aces with just six errors while keeping Nebraska on its heels all night. The Cornhuskers (18-2, 10-1) managed just one ace and misfired seven times.
“I just thought Wisconsin put a lot of pressure on us and we didn’t handle it very well,” Coach John Cook said during his post-match radio interview. “It all started at the service line. They served really well and we had a hard time passing, so we never really got into a rhythm tonight.”
Nebraska had no answer for Michigan State transfer Sarah Franklin who posted a match-high 21 kills on .372 hitting. She accounted for nearly half of the team’s kills as Wisconsin hit .207 as a team.
“When you’e giving them free balls and roll shots, it’s easy,” Cook said. “She was on fire tonight. They set her front row and back row and she had a good night.”
Nebraska hit just .162, though freshman middle blocker Bekka Allick buoyed that percentage with 13 kills on .647 hitting, one-upping the season-high in kills she set last week at Purdue. The rest of the team hit just .080. Madi Kubik and Whitney Lauenstein had seven kills apiece but combined for 10 errors.
Nicklin Hames posted her third double-double of the season with 15 assists and a team-high 14 digs. Lexi Rodriguez added 12 digs.
Nebraska got off to a good start, inducing a few Wisconsin errors earlier to jump out to a 5-1 lead. The Huskers led by four again at 8-4 before the Badgers settled in and surged ahead with an 8-2 run including four straight.
Nebraska tied it up a 12-12, but the Badgers scored three straight to take a lead they would not relinquish. The Huskers cut the deficit down to one three different times behind strong play from Allick in particular, but Wisconsin responded with a 3-1 run late to earn set point at 24-21. It took three tries but Wisconsin but they finally finished it off with a kill from Franklin.
Devyn Robinson and Franklin had six kills apiece as Wisconsin put down 17 kills on .217 hitting. The Badgers added a pair of aces to their point total as well. Allick led Nebraska with six kills of her own on nine errorless swings while Lauenstein added five kills. Nebraska hit .220.
Nebraska led 2-1 early in the second set, but the Badgers responded with a 6-1 run to take control. The teams went back and forth for a bit until Wisconsin hit Nebraska with a 7-0 run to take a 17-7 lead. The Huskers burned through both of their timeouts before Kubik finally put an end to the run with a kill.
Wisconsin looked to be cruising to a blowout at 22-12, but Lindsay Krause and Kaitlyn Hord teamed up for a block to spark a furious comeback. The Huskers scored eight straight with Hames at the service line to give themselves a chance, then continued their push to tie it up at 23-all. However, the Badgers blocked the Huskers on back-to-back plays to dash the comeback hopes and take a 2-0 lead.
Nebraska hit .070 in the second after spending much of the set in the negative. Kubik led the way with four kills after the Badgers blanked her in the first. Wisconsin hit .120 as Franklin notched nine of the Badgers’ 13 kills. Neither Lauenstein nor Robinson recorded a kill in the set after a big game one.
Wisconsin continued to give Nebraska fits, scoring three of the first four points in game three. The Huskers rallied to tie it four times before an Allick kill gave Nebraska the lead at 8-7. The advantage was short-lived, however, as Wisconsin delivered the knockout blow with a 12-2 run to take a 19-10 lead.
Nebraska made Wisconsin work to finish the sweep, cutting the deficit down to five at 22-17, but the Badgers won three of the last four rallies to close it out.
Wisconsin out-hit Nebraska .324 to .229 in the third. Allick continued her strong play for the Huskers by terminating all four of her swings, but Franklin countered with six more kills.
The loss drops Nebraska into a three-way tie atop the Big Ten Standings with Wisconsin and No. 6 Ohio State. The Huskers will play Ohio State again on Nov. 13 and they’ll get another crack at the Badgers on Nov. 25 in Lincoln.
“We’re still in first place,” Cook said about his message to the team. “We got we just got knocked down on the mat and we’ve got to get back up. So we’ll see how we’re going to respond. I’m curious what they’ve got in them. How bad do they want this and what’s their response going to be the next three days?”
Nebraska will return home to host Maryland on Saturday night.