By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky will play No. 6 Nebraska Friday at 1 p.m. in Minneapolis for a berth in the Elite Eight Saturday at 5 p.m. against either No. 3 Minnesota or Oregon, which beat Minnesota early in the season, for a spot in the Final Four.
Nebraska is 26-6 this season but did lose its first match this season to Florida, a team UK beat twice in SEC play. Nebraska swept Missouri to reach the Sweet 16. Kentucky also beat Missouri twice during the season.
Nebraska — which beat UK in the Elite Eight last year — lost twice to Minnesota and once to Illinois, Penn State and Wisconsin during the season. Nebraska did beat Creighton, which beat UK to open the season.
“Those are two of the top, consistently good, power-house teams (Minnesota and Nebraska) and I’m not going to lie – Minnesota is a really tough place to play at,” Purdue’s Blake Mohler said after the Boilermakers lost to UK last weekend. “We kind of struggle there every year. It’s a scary gym. Not being in the Big Ten seeing that every night, I’m not sure how they are going to face them.”
Mohler said Kentucky’s serving disrupted Purdue and that freshman Alli Stumler’s aces put unexpected pressure on Purdue. Brooke Morgan’s serve also did the same thing.
“I think that on balls that were on us, we were pretty good at handling, but balls that were coming right at us – especially from Morgan, where it’s coming from such a high point – those disrupted what we wanted to do and wanted to run,” Purdue’s Sherridan Atkinson said.
Purdue coach Dave Shondell said he was not surprised by Kentucky’s balance in its sweep of his team.
‘A big part of our focus was (Leah) Edmond and Stumler, who have been playing very, very well,” Shondell said. “I thought we actually contained those two at a reasonable level. Morgan played very well . I think she’s certainly one of the most improved players in the entire country.”
He was surprised by the play of Caitlyn Cooper, who could be a huge player for UK against Nebraska, too.
“Cooper is a handful; just a great athlete. We did seem to have a good feel for what we needed to do to contain her, but we didn’t expect to go out and be out of system all night,” the Purdue coach said.