Nebraska beats Illinois with huge comeback to set up volleyball final vs. Stanford

MINNEAPOLIS -- Nebraska fought back from two sets down to stun Illinois and advance to the final of the NCAA women's volleyball tournament Thursday night.

After losing the first two sets 25-22 and 25-16, the defending champion Cornhuskers rallied for a victory at Target Center with sets of 25-23, 25-20 and 15-11.

The fifth set was tied at 10 and 11 and appeared even again at 12, but a challenge overturned a point in Nebraska's favor for a 13-11 lead, and the Huskers completed the victory.

After winning its 12th consecutive match, Nebraska will play No. 1 Stanford on Saturday (9 p.m. ET, ESPN2) for the national championship.

Tami Alade had 14 blocks, Kathryn Plummer had 12 kills and Stanford beat BYU 25-15, 25-15 and 25-18 in the first semifinal Thursday night to avenge its only loss of the season.

Audriana Fitzmorris added 11 kills and nine blocks and Morgan Hentz had 20 digs for the Cardinal (33-1), who are seeking their eighth title. They advanced to the championship for the 16th time with their 31st consecutive match victory since losing in five sets at BYU in August.

"This was more about a redemption match than us finding ourselves, because we felt like we just didn't show up the first two sets last time against Florida," Stanford coach Kevin Hambly said.

BYU (31-2) had a lead in every game in the semifinal.

Plummer, the reigning national player of the year, hit .300 and Fitzmorris .375 as the Cardinal had 34 kills with just seven errors and 33 blocks.

"My block was amazing tonight," Hentz said. "I was able to set up around them. And they made my job so much easier. I think our whole team did a great job of scrapping. I thought our scrappiness was key."

BYU had 29 kills and 32 errors. Stanford hit .188 in the first game and got better every game, while the Cougars had more errors in the first two games before hitting .125 in the third.

Roni Jones-Perry, a player of the year candidate with Plummer, had eight kills but 12 errors for BYU.

"They were a really good block, so it was tough," Jones-Perry said. "They did a really nice job. ... It wasn't our best match offensively -- you can see that in the numbers."

Stanford had a 9-2 run in the second set and closed with a 5-2 run. The Cardinal took charge in the third set with a 6-0 run, the final five points on Plummer's serve, for an 18-13 lead.

"There were no surprises," BYU coach Heather Olmstead said. "Stanford is a great team. They serve tough. They have a big block. We weren't serving tough enough for us to get any touches, get some blocks. ... We tried our best, but they took us out of our game."

In the second game, Nebraska led 12-11 in the fifth game when a Mikaela Foecke kill was ruled out of bounds. However, Nebraska challenged and the call was reversed after officials went to the video monitor and determined an Illinois blocker had gotten a finger on the ball.

"I definitely did not think I had a touch,'' Foecke said. "If it wasn't for (teammate) Lauren (Stivrins), I probably would have told coach, `Don't challenge it.' She convinced me, had my back. Won the challenge, so. ...''

The Cornhuskers then went up 14-11 on an Illinois error before Foecke, the 2015 and 2017 Most Outstanding Player when Nebraska won championships, closed it out.

Lexi Sun had 19 kills and 12 digs for the Huskers, who have won 13 straight since losing at home to Illinois in late October. In that match, Nebraska hit a season low .099 and had a season-high 30 hitting errors. They had 22 errors but hit .251 for the match, .375 in the deciding game.

"It was pretty obvious we were struggling early,'' Nebraska's Kenzie Maloney said. "We kind of just said we need a new team to come out in the third set. We all just dug down deep and genuinely believed we could do that, turn the match around. I don't know, we just played with a lot of heart. It really came together for us in the third set, from then on.''

Since their last loss, Nebraska held seven of 12 opponents to less than .200 hitting. Illinois hit .237 but was at .200 and .156 in Games 3 and 4.

Second-year Illini coach Chris Tamas expected Nebraska to come back; after all, he was on the Cornhuskers staff two years ago.

"We knew they weren't going to go away,'' he said. "You don't make it to four straight final fours by chance. They had one of the best outside hitters in the country with Mikaela. We knew they were going to ride her. We knew they're not going down without a fight.''

Jacqueline Quade had 28 kills for the Illini (32-4), who had won 17 straight. Morgan O'Briend had 27 digs.

"I would say coming out really strong the first two sets as a team is something you always really like to see,'' Quade said. "They definitely took a hit back at us in the third and fourth. Props to them for that. I think we managed it pretty well. We were still doing really good things throughout the match. Just really came down to that fifth set, and they got us in that.''

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.