Maturi Pavilion was rocking, and the No. 5 Gophers had a winning streak on the line.
Minnesota (20-2, 9-2 Big Ten) beat Illinois 3-2 on Wednesday evening in a five-set win for the team’s eighth consecutive victory.
“Certainly happy to come away with a win," said head coach Hugh McCutcheon. "We knew Illinois was a good team, and I thought they played particularly well tonight. For us, we got some good opportunities to learn.”
It all came down to the fifth set. After the Gophers lost the fourth set to tie the score 2-2, Illinois (16-6, 7-4 Big Ten) forced Minnesota to come up and play another set after the Fighting Illini's 25-20 fourth-set victory, but the Gophers prevailed and took the fifth set 15-11.
The Gophers came off the fourth set loss reeling, opening the fifth set allowing Illinois four straight points, going down 4-1.
“I thought we brought a lot of energy, especially [in] the fifth set," said outside hitter Alexis Hart. "Sometimes we were a little shaky, but overall I think we were doing pretty well at just being connected.”
The Gophers weren’t done yet, though, and they managed to bring the score back within reach to 6-5 in favor of the Fighting Illini. Then, Minnesota managed to hold at least a three-point lead until the final point.
The star of the game for the Gophers was Hart. She converted on 28 kills, and had 66 total attacks in the match, accounting for more than one-third of the Gophers' team attacks.
Hart had been averaging 3.71 kills per set before this match, and against Illinois, she found a way to average 5.6 kills per set over the five sets.
“It's really great to have my teammates there, because some were blocked," Hart said. "It helps me with my shot selection.”
Saturday, the Gophers faced the rival Wisconsin, and won their seventh consecutive game, and now, the Minnesota put away Illinois for its eighth consecutive win.
Minnesota’s redshirt freshman Regan Pittman had 13 kills through four sets, and she now has 22 games under her belt at the collegiate level.
"I feel very comfortable," Pittman said. "I know I always have a team behind me to help if there ever are moments, that I just know they have my back."
Errors surfaced as an issue in the sets Minnesota was losing. The first set, the Gophers had six errors, and in the fourth set, they had nine.
In each of the sets the Gophers won, they had less. In the second set they had six, and in each the third and fifth sets they had three errors.
“They're a really good blocking team," McCutcheon said. "I thought our hitting really didn't adjust to the ... size and the discipline of their block."
The second and third set is where Minnesota picked up speed, and got the 2-1 set lead.
“This league is tough," McCutcheon said. "We expend a lot of emotion and a lot of energy when we step on the floor, because we know people are coming after us, as they go after everybody."
The Gophers will go out to New Jersey and face Rutgers Saturday to look for their ninth consecutive win.