ThNo. 17 Northern Iowa came back from a two-game deficit to win game five, 17-15, to capture a 3-2 victory over Minnesota in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in Cedar Falls, Iowa, on Saturday. The Golden Gophers end their season with 19-13 record. Northern Iowa, 31-1, advances to the Sweet 16 for the first time in school history.
The fifth game was tied 12 times. Minnesota fought off one Northern Iowa match point when Kathy Tilson pounded her 14th kill of the match. The Gophers took a lead on a Stephanie Hagen kill and Bethany Brafford stepped to the service line with Minnesota's only match-point opportunity at 15-14.
The Panthers? only senior Kim McCaffrey, answered with her biggest kill of the match to pull even at 15-15. Minnesota went to their senior sensation Hagen on the next point but the All-American was blocked by Molly O? Brien and Kim Kester to give the Panthers another shot at match point. This time, the Panthers stamped their ticket into the Sweet 16 on a McCaffrey service ace.
"That was a typical five-game NCAA match, we are disappointed to lose, but we were happy with our effort," said Minnesota head coach Mike Hebert. "I thought the match was really won in game four. They made some really nice adjustments after the break and changed the rhythm of their offense. The fourth game is always a critical one and Northern Iowa played almost the perfect game."
Hagen and the Gophers were red-hot in the first two games. Hagen pounded the Panther defense with 13 kills with just one error, while the Gophers hit .378 in game one and .395 in game two.
The tides turned in the third game and the crowd of 1,764 in the packed West Gym did its part to pull Northern Iowa back into the match. Kester found the hot hand from the outside, smashing eight kills in 10 swings. Meanwhile, the Panthers? defense did its part building a 15-7 advantage in digs. Northern Iowa won the third game, 30-21, and the comeback was on.
Minnesota's offense, which hit just .159 in the third game, continued to struggle in the fourth, as nine hitting errors dropping the Gophers' attack percentage to .156. With the momentum now on their side of the court, Northern Iowa hit a torrid .481 to tie the match at two games apiece.
Both teams hit .500 in the fifth and deciding game. It was the Northern Iowa block, which stuffed three shots on none for Minnesota that was the difference.
Lindsey Berg finished the match with 65 assists to complete her stellar Minnesota career with 5,913 assists, good for third place on the Big Ten Conference career assists list. Hagen collected 22 kills and hit .410 in the match. Hagen finishes her career with 1,425 kills.