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Wisconsin sweeps Gophers at Sports Pavilion

The teams will meet again in Madison, Wis., on Saturday.

Minnesota took a two-match winning streak into Wednesday night’s match against No. 5 Wisconsin.

But the Gophers’ efforts weren’t enough to surmount Wisconsin, as they lost to the Badgers in three sets.

The Gophers fell behind early in the first set and rallied to reduce the deficit, but it wasn’t enough.

“In the beginning, we started a little slow,” junior outside hitter Daly Santana said. “We [have to] make sure we compete right away.”

The second set started out the same, with Minnesota trailing 0-4.

Sophomore outside hitter Sarah Wilhite said after being down right off the bat in the first two sets, the team got tense.

“We wouldn’t really move our feet on defense, and our blocking got a little squirrely,” Wilhite said.

Head coach Hugh McCutcheon said the Gophers gave away a lot of points to Wisconsin in the first two sets, and the team wasn’t killing the ball.

Minnesota ended the second set stronger than it started, but the team couldn’t finish despite a long rally at the outset.

Wilhite said the team wasn’t happy with its performance in the first two sets, and it made the decision to fight in the third.

The Gophers came out of the locker room for the third set looking to take the match away from the Badgers.

A new lineup emerged in the third set, with a libero and defensive specialist change.

Though Minnesota jumped out to a lead, Wisconsin came back about halfway through the set.

The teams engaged in back-and-forth rallies, and the set was tied 28-28, but Wisconsin pulled ahead and ended it 30-28 to win the match.

McCutcheon said the teams went toe-to-toe in the third set and the Gophers “got a little bit better competitive mind frame,” but he said it was a shame that it took the team a few sets to get to that point.

The Gophers held strong with 6.5 blocks on the match, but Wisconsin’s coverage off the block and its overall defense was hard to beat — the Badgers lead the Big Ten in digs per set.

McCutcheon said the team’s passing broke down in the third set, which gave players fewer options and caused the team to be more reliant on the left side than it wanted.

“[We] needed a little bit better of a first contact; then maybe things would have been a little different,” McCutcheon said.

The Gophers also struggled with hitting errors, with a total of 23 in the match compared to Wisconsin’s 13.

Santana had 12 of those errors. Despite that, she had 17 kills, and McCutcheon defended her inconsistency.

“Daly takes a load for us,” McCutcheon said. “She’s always gonna have two blockers on her, and she gets set almost twice as much as anyone right now. I cannot chastise her for being assertive.”

The Gophers will have another shot at the Badgers as the teams play again in Wisconsin on Saturday night.

McCutcheon said going into this weekend, he hopes the team can hold onto the mindset it had in the third set and not back down.

“We know that we can battle with them,” Wilhite said. “How we finished in the third set, that’s how we’re gonna come out Saturday.”

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