LINCOLN — Just around the corner from a tunnel that leads to the Devaney Center court, Texas' coach was in the middle of a conversation with a team official when he first heard the Husker fans roar.
Nebraska's match started 30 minutes after the Longhorns secured their win Friday night. Jerritt Elliott had left a postmatch press conference when the sudden noise from the capacity crowd stopped him in his tracks.
“Point Nebraska, I guess,” he said.
Those around Elliott smiled. At least for one moment, the coach found some humor in the task that now awaits his defending champions.
Texas (26-2) needed a full game to adjust to the speed of American's attack before eventually cruising to a 24-26, 25-14, 25-16, 25-20 win to advance to Saturday's regional final in the NCAA tournament.
And up next, it's Nebraska. The Huskers were locked in Friday night, sweeping San Diego in front of that raucous home crowd — which will presumably be louder than ever when former Big 12 rivals meet for a chance to go to the final four.
The Longhorns sat high up in the west bleachers during the first two games of Nebraska's win Friday night, taking it all in.
The NU crowd “gets consuming sometimes,” junior Khat Bell said. “But you've got to just block that stuff out. Focus on what's going on in front of you.”
That's why the Longhorns played at Hawaii and Illinois earlier this season, Elliott said.
“They're used to it,” Elliott said.
Texas' players got a small taste of the pro-Nebraska environment during their match Friday.
The first set started with a few polite claps here and there from the assembling Husker crowd. Most watched quietly, while biting off a chunk of Valentino's pizza or casually flipping through the game program.
But American kept battling, and more Nebraska fans started to file in — the arena was about half-full when the Eagles went on a 4-0 run to position themselves for back-to-back potential game points. Suddenly those occasional cheers from the Nebraska faithful transformed into boisterous screams and standing ovations. By the end of that opening game, the NU crowd was booing during midpoint controversial moments, gasping at the near-kills and starting the slow clap before serves.
The place erupted when American clinched the first game.
But the Longhorns tuned it out. They settled in from there, and actually “raised their level” of play, according to American coach Barry Goldberg.
“That's what you get from a team that's that physical, and that experienced,” he said. “They didn't lose their cool. They kept calm about what they were doing and kept attacking.”
The Longhorns never trailed in second and fourth sets. American jumped to a 3-0 lead in the third set, but was forced to call a timeout after Texas scored 10 of the next 13 points.
“In a game like that, against American, you can't let up at all, and you can't be distracted or worrying about other things,” senior Bailey Webster said.
Webster said she did notice the crowd by the end of the match, though. And when NU started its match against San Diego, the Husker fans gave their team a standing ovation after every early point.
The Longhorns know how special this Nebraska-Texas meeting will be for the home fans. Texas has won six of the last seven matches against NU, including a five-set thriller in Austin, Texas, earlier this season.
“Nebraska, it's a great rivalry,” Webster said. “We're excited for it.”
American (34-3) .......................................... 26 14 16 20
Texas (26-2) ................................................ 24 25 25 25
AU (kills-aces-blocks): Crum 9-0-0, Smidova 4-1-4, Cappellino 4-1-0, Hendrix 5-0-3, Lindovska 11-0-2, McCaddin 9-1-4, Rosburg 0-1-0, Katz 3-0-2, Scheidt 0-1-0, Scarbrough 1-0-0.
UT: Bell 16-0-7, McCage 5-0-5, Brooks 0-0-0, Eckerman 11-2-4, Allison 2-2-4, Webster 18-0-3, Neal 0-1-0, Ogbogu 11-0-3, Palmer 0-0-0.
Set assists: AU 45 (Smidova 36), UT 61 (Allison 54).