LIVE! Louisville

LIVE! Louisville

Illinois 3, Louisville 1

Illinois volleyball is back into the Sweet 16 for the second consecutive season.

The host and third-seeded Illini dispatched Louisville in four sets on Saturday night at Huff Hall, defeating the Cardinals 25-22, 26-28, 25-17, 25-18. 

Illinois took an early 3-0 lead in the fourth set and never trailed against the Cardinals. A kill from Ali Bastianelli put the Illini up 9-4, a kill from Megan Cooney extended the Illini's lead to 15-9 and one from Beth Prince gave Illinois a 19-11 lead.

Illinois (30-3) will carry its 15-match win streak into next weekend's regional, which will take place at Huff Hall. The Illini will face Marquette (28-6) in the regional semifinal, with the date and time to be announced later.

Illinois 2, Louisville 1

Illinois put together its most complete set of the night, winning the third set 25-17 and putting the Illini on the brink of the Sweet 16.

Illinois never trailed, using an 8-0 run to take a 14-6 lead, more than enough to fend off the Cardinals, who didn't go away, causing some apprehension from Illinois fans by cutting their deficit to 15-11.

But Jacqueline Quade responded with a kill, and back-to-back errors by Louisville increased the Illini's lead to 18-11.

Another kill from Quade put Illinois ahead 20-12 and she delivered again with a kill to give the Illini a 23-16 lead before Ashlyn Fleming and Beth Prince combined on a block to close out the set win for Illinois.

Illinois 1, Louisville 1

Louisville isn't initimated or backing down against the Illini in front of a jammed-pack Huff Hall crowd, taking the second set 28-26.

The Cardinals have given the smattering of Louisville fans in attendance reason to cheer after not letting the Illini lead at any point in the second set before Ali Bastianelli and Jacqueline Quade teamed up for a block to put Illinois ahead 18-17.

But the Illini rallied back thanks to some timely kills by Beth Prince and even led 25-24 off a kill by Ashlyn Fleming.

Louisville, however, didn't let the atmosphere overwhelm them, responding with a kill by Amanda Green and an ace by Green to take a 26-25 lead.

Illinois answered, though, with a combined block by Bastianelli and Megan Cooney to tie the match at 26. A serving error gave Louisville a 27-26 lead and Melanie McHenry ended the set with a kill for the Cardinals.

Quade leads the Illini with seven kills through two sets, while Poulter has handed out 22 assists and Morgan O'Brien has come up with 16 digs.

For Louisville, McHenry (11 kills) and Green (10 kills) are forming a potent duo at the net that the Illini are struggling to contain.

Illinois 1, Louisville 0

It wasn't necessarily easy for the Illini in the first set, but they take an early lead against Louisville with a 25-22 win in the first set.

Louisville hung around, causing some problems for the Illini defense.

Ashlyn Fleming brought about one of the louder cheers in the first set by the Illini fans with a solo block that gave Illinois an 18-16 lead, but Louisville answered with a 4-1 run to knot the set at 19.

The tie prompted Illinois coach Chris Tamas to call a timeout, and Illinois responded. Jacqueline Quade delivered a kill to give Illinois a 20-19 lead and then a close kill attempt by Louisville ruled out was upheld after the Cardinals challenged the call to give Illinois a 21-19 lead.

But a solo block by former Illini Marijke Van Dyke, who transferred to Louisville after spending the 2017 season at Illinois, cut the Illini's lead to 23-22 before Jordyn Poulter displayed an incredible display of hand-eye coordination around the net on three successive plays to put the Illini ahead 24-22.

Prince closed out the set with a tip kill over the outstretched arms of Louisville's block.

6:50 p.m.

Illinois (29-3) vs. Louisville (22-8), 7 p.m.

It's almost go time here at Huff Hall.

Louisville came out of its locker room around 6:47 p.m. (complete with smoke machines) as Illinois was finishing up its warm-ups on the court, mainly featuring a bevy of serves in both directions by the Illini, before the Cardinals took to the court to get in a few more swings near the net before the match starts.

Got to say, the pregame music set list inside the Illinois home venue is a quality one. Thumbs up to whoever put it together.

Of course, nothing beats the Marching Illini though, and there's a sizeable contingent in the one of the bleachers in the end. Always good to hear them in action.

I'm here across from the Illinois bench above the reserved seats, and the general admission seats behind me are almost full. Expect a loud atmosphere here that is heavily in favor of Illinois, obviously.

We'll see if Illinois can use that to its advantage and how much it might factor Louisville's strategy.

Should be an entertaining night of volleyball, with a spot in the Sweet 16 on the line. 

6:30 p.m. pregame

Illinois (29-3) vs. Louisville (22-8), 7 p.m.

Good evening Illinois volleyball fans. Or just Illinois fans in general.

Matt Daniels here for the night, filling in for beat writer Scott Richey. Scott has a valid reason for not being here, though, with travel to Nebraska on his plans ahead of Sunday's 4 p.m. tip for Illinois men's basketball against the Cornhuskers in Lincoln, Neb.

It should be a raucous atmosphere inside Huff Hall on the University of Illinois campus tonight. The third-seeded Illinois volleyball team hosts Louisville at 7 p.m. in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Both teams are coming off impressive wins on Friday evening. Louisville (22-8) defeated Dayton 25-21, 25-23, 25-21 in a first-round match at Huff, while Illinois (29-3) handled Eastern Michigan rather easily, defeating the Eagles 25-14, 25-9, 25-20 in front of 4,002 fans, just shy of a third straight sellout at Huff.

Jacqueline Quade and Ashlyn Fleming each posted eight kills to lead the Illini, with Jordyn Poulter distributing 24 assists and Morgan O'Brien making eight digs.

Illinois carries a 14-match win streak into tonight's match with the Cardinals and is trying to clinch the program's second straight appearance in the Sweet 16 and 18th overall. 

Illinois leads the overall series against Louisville 12-4, with the Illini beating the Cardinals in three sets last September. Illinois coach Chris Tamas and Louisville coach Dani Busboom Kelly, both in the second years of leading their respective programs, are well-acquainted with one another since both served on the Nebraska staff as assistant coaches when the Cornhuskers won the national title in 2015.

The winner of tonight's match faces either Marquette (27-6) or Cincinnati (26-7) next weekend in a regional semifinal match. Those two programs square off tonight, with first serve set for 7 p.m. in Milwaukee.

One team has already clinched a spot in the same regional that Illinois is in. Wisconsin defeated Pepperdine in four sets on Friday night to lock up a spot in the Sweet 16. The other two teams vying for a spot in the same regional as Illinois meet later tonight, with 11th-seeded Southern Cal (22-10) and San Diego (17-12) playing at 9 p.m. in Los Angeles. 

Fans started streaming into Huff Hall at a good clip after 6 p.m. on what is an unseasonably warm Dec. 1, with severe weather spread throughout central Illinois. Let's hope it stays away from Champaign-Urbana.

Louisville players came out onto the court around 5:55 p.m. and started some light warm-up work. 

Illinois players first took the court around 6:25 p.m. to hearty applause from the few thousand Illinois fans that are inside Huff already.

Don't know if we'll get to a sellout tonight at Huff, but the fans are still coming into Huff at a good clip roughly a half-hour before the match and it should be close to full, if not entirely at capacity.