Stanford Overcomes 0-2 Deficit To Stun Texas In NCAA Semifinal


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OMAHA, Neb. - A year ago, Stanford forced a fifth set in the NCAA title match and nearly pulled off one of the biggest comebacks in Final Four history. Tonight at the Qwest Center in Omaha, Neb., the Cardinal actually did it. For the first time ever, a team fought back from an 0-2 deficit to win an NCAA semifinal match, as the second-seeded Stanford Cardinal raced back to defeat the third-seeded Texas Longhorns, 20-25, 18-25, 25-15, 25-22, 15-13.

It took all that Stanford's three All-American hitters could muster, but in the end Alix Klineman, Cynthia Barboza and Foluke Akinradewo played one of the best matches of their careers. Klineman paced the team with 20 kills, while Akinradewo slammed 17 on .452 hitting and provided six critical blocks. It was Barboza, however, who stole the show in the improbable comeback, recording 15 of her 19 kills in the final three sets.

Stanford (31-3) moves on to the 2008 NCAA title match, reaching the coveted contest for the third year in a row and NCAA-leading 14th time overall. The Cardinal will get a rematch with undefeated and top-ranked Penn State in that match, which is slated for Saturday at 7 p.m. (CT) at the Qwest Center Omaha. Since head coach John Dunning took over in 2001, Stanford has reached six of the last eight NCAA championship matches.

Texas, which entered the semifinal on a 13-match win streak, ends its year at 29-4, with two five-set losses coming at the hands of the Cardinal.

Playing in front of her hometown Nebraska crowd, Cardinal libero Gabi Ailes was instrumental in jumpstarting the Stanford comeback, stepping up with eight digs in the third set. She finished with 18 digs on the night, and nabbed the 1,000th of her career in the third set. She is the just the 11th Stanford player since 1986 to reach the milestone. Her performance also moved her into third place on the school's single-season dig chart (457).
Barboza picked up her 15th double-double with 16 digs to go along with her 19 kills. Setter Cassidy Lichtman dished out 57 assists and added 11 digs for her 11th double-double of the year.

Texas was led by junior outside hitter Destinee Hooker's match-high 23 kills and a career-high 21 digs. The Longhorns also got 19 kills from sophomore Juliann Faucette, 16 from senior Lauren Paolini and 11 from junior Ashley Engle. Libero Heather Kisner equaled Hooker with 21 digs.

Stanford was outhit .316 to .306 in the match. The Longhorns were the first team all year to hit above .300 against the Cardinal and just the fourth to outhit the team.

Stanford's 0-2 comeback was its first since Nov. 18, 2004, when the Cardinal overcame the deficit against then-No. 1 Washington. Stanford's only other 0-2 comeback in the NCAA Tournament came in the 1984 regional final against USC.

Akinradewo ripped two quick kills to start the match, and the Cardinal seemed to be on the right track with a 3-0 opening lead. It didn't take long for the Longhorns to get their bearings, however, as Faucette led her team on a 9-1 run that put Stanford at a five-point deficit. Down 12-7, Barboza stepped back and served four straight, capitalizing on Longhorn hitting errors to pull back within one at 12-11. After a Texas timeout, however, three Hooker kills in a five-point span helped the Longhorns build back a four-point lead, 16-12. A few points later, another Texas run pushed the score to 21-15. Stanford managed to trim the lead to three on two occasions, with the last coming at 23-20, but could never catch up. Engle popped a kill off the net for set point at 24-20 and Rachael Adams finished off the win on the next point, 25-20. Stanford hit just .179 in the first set to Texas' .286. Klineman led all players with seven kills, while Faucette had six for the Longhorns.

Stanford hung tough to start the second set, but locked at five, the Longhorns ran off on a 7-1 run to put the Cardinal in another deep hole, 12-6. Akinradewo put up a solo block to cut the lead to four at 14-10, but the Cardinal was never able to come any closer. After a Klineman kill made it 18-14, the Longhorns took back-to-back points and plodded along to the finish. Hooker put down the kill for set point, 24-17, and Faucette finished soon after, 25-18. Stanford was outhit .319 to .125 in the second set. Faucette added six more kills, while Barboza had four for the Cardinal.

Stanford went in the locker room, and returned with an entirely new game. The team stepped on the court and controlled set three from the start, using some early action by Akinradewo to take six of the first eight points. The Cardinal built its advantage to 9-3 on some Longhorn hitting errors, then used a pair of Barboza kills to put to push it out to 13-6. Hooker carried Texas on a 7-1 run to pull the Longhorns back in the game at 14-13, but Stanford would have none of it. Senior Erin Waller collected two kills, a block and an ace in the 9-1 Stanford run that followed, pushing the Cardinal out to a commanding 23-14 lead. Akinradewo downed a ball for set point at 24-15 and Barboza slammed a kill off the block to finish, 25-15. Stanford hit .387 to Texas' .188 in the third set and was led by Barboza's five kills.

Stanford used two Akinradewo kills to open up a 5-2 lead in set four, and worked ahead to 9-6 on two Barboza kills. Texas fought back to tie at nine, however, then took over the lead on a Hooker kill on the next point. Slams by Waller and Klineman gave Stanford its lead back at 11-10, and the two each served an ace to help Stanford earn back its three-point lead, 15-12. Another four-point Texas run resulted in another Longhorn lead at 16-15, but Stanford once again fought back. Led by Barboza, a 4-0 Cardinal run made it 19-16, and at 21-18, Stanford still had its three-point lead. Texas pulled back to 21-20 then 22-21, but Klineman and Akinradewo slammed two kills in a row to push Stanford to set point, 24-21. Texas got one point back, but Klineman drilled a kill to finish, 25-22. Barboza had six kills in the fourth set, as did Hooker. Stanford had a slight edge in an impressive hitting column, .439 to .438.

Stanford fell behind 0-3 in the fifth set and once again had to stage a comeback. Down 4-1, Akinradewo and Barboza put down consecutive kills to ignite a 5-1 Stanford rally. Klineman crushed a kill to tie the set at five, and Akinradewo served her second ace of the night to give Stanford its first lead, 6-5. Hooker put down two kills to nab the lead back for the Longhorns, but after Barboza tied the set at eight, Hooker sent a ball out of bounds to put Stanford back on top, 9-8. After another tie at nine, Klineman came up with a kill and critical solo block that swung the momentum strongly in Stanford's favor, 11-9. The teams exchanged points from there, with Stanford taking set point on a Lichtman kill at 14-12. Paolini picked up a kill at 14-13 to keep the pressure on the Cardinal, but Barboza stepped up and ricocheted a ball off the Longhorn block and out of bounds for the win, 15-13. Stanford hit .500 in the final set to Texas' .381 clip.

Stanford advances to its third consecutive NCAA title match, marking just the third time in NCAA history that a team has made three in row. UCLA (1990-92) and Penn State (1997-99) are the only others to accomplish the feat.

Stanford Notes...

- With the win, Stanford has reached the NCAA championship match for the third consecutive year. The Cardinal becomes just the third team in Division I history to accomplish the feat. The other two teams are UCLA (1990-91-92) and Penn State (1997-98-99).
- Stanford overcame a 2-0 deficit to come back and win the match 3-2. This was the first time in NCAA Tournament history that a team has come back from a 2-0 deficit to win in a national semifinal match.
- This was the second time that Stanford defeated Texas 3-2 at the Qwest Center this season. The Cardinal won the earlier matchup on Aug. 31 in the AVCA Showcase.
- Stanford is now 14-4 all-time in national semifinal appearances.
- Stanford extended its winning streak to 16 matches. The Cardinal has also won 27 of its last 28 contests and beaten 16 ranked teams this season.
- Stanford has won all three five-set matches that it has played this year.
- Stanford now leads the all-time series against Texas 15-6.
- After hitting just .152 in the first two sets, Stanford came back to hit .436 in the final three sets and finish at a .306 mark for the match.
- Coming into the match, Stanford had been holding its tournament opponents to just a .089 hitting percentage. Texas hit .316 for the match, a Stanford opponent season best.
- Senior middle blocker Foluke Akinradewo had 17 kills and six total blocks, while also hitting .462 for the competition. She is currently hitting .447 for her career. The NCAA DI career record is .423.

Article courtesy of Stanford athletics.

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