No. 3 ranked Florida looks to face off against No. 2 Pittsburgh in the Regional Semifinal Thursday afternoon, the two teams have a short record of competing against each other and this will be the first time the two teams have faced each other in the NCAA tournament. The two teams have competed against each other only three times before, Pittsburgh leads the series 2-1. Both teams sit fairly well in their conferences with Florida being 25-5 and 15-3 in SEC play and Pittsburgh is 29-3 and 17-1 in ACC play.
In Florida’s previous matchup with Iowa St. their defense allowed them to finish the matchup sweeping the cyclones. The defense was led by the Junior libero, Elli McKissok, who ended the night with an impressive 17 digs and 3 services aces. Minus an early setting error the Gators went on an early 6-1 run bringing the early score 8-3, the Gators would then go on another 6-1 run bringing the score to 15-7. The closest the Cyclones got the score to was within 5, the Gators took care of business in the first set 25-19. The Gators played a very clean first set, only having three errors. The second set however was much closer as the Gators won 25-23. The third set led to a very dominant performance by the Gators, resulting in the final score being 25-14.
This matchup will be determined by how resilient the Gator’s defense can be. Pittsburgh is coming off a close but dominant sweep of BYU in the second round of play. Each set brought in at least 18 kills, and finishing off the third set with 20. This is where both teams find each other in the same boat, both are aggressive at the net and having hitting percentages in round two ranging from .2 all the way up to .39. Both teams tend to have at least 30 total hitting attempts. The biggest threats the Gators will have to face on Pittsburgh’s defense is Rachel Fairbanks and Valeria Vazquez Gomez. Together the two raked in 27 digs against BYU. Both players are double threat players on Pittsburgh’s roster. Gomez raked in 9 kills and Fairbanks raked in 10 kills. Offensively, the Gators will need to effectively keep Courtney Buzzerio from getting hot at the net as she raked in 23 kills against BYU.
So, what will it take for the Gators to be successful is this matchup? Their defense is going to need to be aggressive and their blockers are going to need to do their best at shutting down Buzzerio from getting hot. This will take players like McKissok to have another hot performance on defense along with be effective at the service line. But the key to a successful game for the Gators is keeping their errors to a minimum like they did against the Cyclones.
Florida and Pitt will face off Thursday at 3:30 PM with coverage airing live on ESPNU.