LINCOLN — With its offense sputtering again, allowing Big Ten bottom-feeder Indiana to hang uncomfortably close, Nebraska turned to a part of its game that had been noticeably absent lately.
The No. 9-rated Huskers racked up a season-best 17 blocks to stuff the Hoosiers 25-11, 18-25, 25-13, 25-22 Friday night at the NU Coliseum in front of 4,109. Freshman Meghan Haggerty had eight blocks, and junior Hayley Thramer had seven to pace six Huskers with at least one block.
The 17 blocks were one better than the team's previous season best against Michigan on Sept. 30 and shook NU out of its recent slump at the net. The Huskers had been averaging 1.74 blocks per set in losing three of four matches.
“It was a great feeling just to get on our block momentum,” Haggerty said. “We were ready for their shots, and we were able to stop it.”
Junior Morgan Broekhuis, who had a team-high 10 kills for the Huskers (19-5, 11-4 Big Ten), said the team was motivated to shut down the Hoosiers after they hit .290 in Nebraska's five-set victory Oct. 6. That mark was the highest Indiana (11-16, 3-12) had hit during conference play this season.
But Friday they held the Hoosiers to .072 attacking.
“Our goal was just to suffocate them with our defense,” Brokehuis said.
The block allowed the Huskers to survive another night when their offense was misfiring for long stretches. Nebraska hit .236 Friday — the fourth time in the past five matches it has hit lower than .250.
Outside hitters Gina Mancuso and Hannah Werth combined to hit .105 with 18 kills and 12 errors. Werth returned to the court after missing Nebraska's previous match with an ankle injury and had eight of the errors, including being blocked on three straight swings in Game 3.
“I think Hannah was just tentative,” Nebraska coach John Cook said. “She practiced this week, but we took it easy. I just think she didn't have her confidence all the way there, but she had a huge swing in Game 4 — which she usually does when the game is on the line.”
The swing Cook mentioned came with the Huskers looking like they might be heading for another fifth set against Indiana. The Hoosiers led 20-19 in the fourth when Werth slammed home a kill off an overpass of Mancuso's serve.
Then Werth, who added four blocks, teamed up with Haggerty to stuff Indiana's Kelci Marschall to put Nebraska up 22-21 before pounding another kill on the next rally to give the Huskers some breathing room.
Haggerty provided an exclamation on match point by combining with setter Lauren Cook for a block on Jordan Haverly, who tied Marschall for Indiana's team high with 11 kills.
John Cook said the Huskers were caught off guard in the teams' first meeting by Indiana's quick-middle offense, but NU appeared well-prepared this time from the opening serve.
The Huskers scored seven of their first 15 points in the match on blocks and finished with eight stuffs in Game 1, six coming from Thramer.
“Defense and blocking is a mind-set, coach says,” Broekhuis said. “A lot of it is being aggressive. We prepared well all week, and we just executed better this time.”
But the momentum from the Game 1 blowout quickly dissipated and the Huskers were in another dogfight. Nebraska hit .135 in the second game, which Indiana won going away powered by five kills from Haverly.
NU rebounded in Game 3, pulling away with a 6-1 run midway through, but had to battle back in the clincher after the Hoosiers used a 6-1 spurt to take a 15-13 lead.
It was another match in which miscues kept Nebraska from truly grabbing control. The Huskers had 10 service errors, and their coach said the team will need to raise its play to beat No. 21 Purdue on Saturday night. The surging Boilermakers will come to the Coliseum having won five matches in a row.
“We certainly made some uncharacteristic errors tonight, bumping free balls into the net or out,” Cook said. “We'd get a couple points and then miss a serve. Those are the things that really hurt you. We've got to clean that up, but that's volleyball. You have some nights when things are clicking and some nights you've got to find ways to work through it.
“These (Big Ten) teams are good. So if you're making silly errors and you're letting teams off the hook, you're going to pay the price. I think that's probably the biggest lesson we're learning right now.”
Indiana (11-16, 3-12) ................. 11 25 13 22
At Nebraska (19-5, 11-4) ................. 25 18 25 25
I (kills-aces-blocks): Marschall 11-0-2, Haverly 11-0-1, Thrower 8-0-3, Leach 7-0-4, Henderson 4-0-0, Granado 0-1-5.
NU (kills-aces-blocks): N, Broekhuis 10-0-4, Mancuso 9-1-4, Werth 9-0-4, Haggerty 7-0-8, Thramer 6-0-7, Cook 4-1-3, Dykstra 0-1-0.
Set assists: I 37 (Granado 36), NU 44 (Cook 36).
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