Minnesota's (26-3) lock-down defense pushed the Gophers into the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
For the fourth straight year, the Gophers began the NCAA Tournament at home. They held Bryant University to a .008 hitting percentage as they swept the Bulldogs: 25-10, 25-16 and 25-21 in front of 5,101 fans.
“I thought there were lots of really positive things about our performance this evening and hopefully we’ll carry that momentum over to tomorrow night’s match,” head coach Hugh McCutcheon said.
Defensively, the Gophers had 16 blocks, the second-most they’ve registered in a match all year, which helped hold Bryant to a hitting percentage under .100.
“We’ve been working on our defense, our blocking defense, for a long time,” middle blocker Taylor Morgan. “I thought it was a really good way to showcase our efforts and our progress.”
Morgan had nine blocks along with eight kills on the night. Six Gophers players recorded a block, three of which had at least five.
Opposite hitter Stephanie Samedy said the momentum a huge block brings to the team is huge.
“You know it just gets everyone really excited,” Samedy said.
The number two-seeded Minnesota team started the opening set of the tournament tied 2-2, but went on a roll, scoring nine consecutive points and taking an 11-2 lead that they would not give up.
The Gophers took the opening set 25-10 behind a well-balanced offensive attack and a dominant defense that held Bryant to a -.056 hitting percentage.
“Having not necessarily seen a big block in our conference, I mean there’s a few girls, but not the entire row being over six foot,” Bryant outside hitter Julia Flynn said.
In the second set, the middle blockers for the Gophers were not letting anything by. They blocked nine hits and again held Bryant to a negative hitting percentage.
Although the Bulldogs showed a little more fight than they did in the opening set, Minnesota started hot and never looked back.
Minnesota rode the momentum and took the second set 25-16. Through two sets, Bryant hadn’t held a single lead in the match. Morgan led the Gophers with three kills along with three blocks within the set.
In the final set of the match, Bryant knew they were fighting for their season and it looked like it.
“We tried to keep the set a little bit further off the net, so we could tool the block a little bit more,” Bryant head coach Theresa Garlacy said.
Although Minnesota started with another quick 5-2 lead, the Bulldogs consistently answered the Gophers attack, and took their first lead of the match, late 19-18.
“They certainly played well, they just didn’t give many [points] away,” McCutcheon said.
Bryants late surge was not enough, however. The Gophers capped the night off with a 25-21 third set victory and a sweep.
For Bryant, this was the program's debut in the NCAA Tournament and although they didn’t win, Garlacy said making it to the tournament has set their program up in the future.
The Gophers will return to action Saturday at 7 p.m. at Maturi Pavilion to take on South Carolina; the team beat Colorado in five sets Friday.