It was an unexpectedly nerve-wracking battle, but a big game by Krista Vansant lifted the Washington volleyball team to a 3-1 win over Louisiana State on Saturday night and put third-seeded UW into the round of 16 in the NCAA tournament for the fourth time in six seasons.
The Huskies (28-2) move on to the Los Angeles regional and will face 14th-seeded Kansas (25-7) on Friday. Washington is two wins away from advancing in the Final Four, which will be played Dec. 19 and 21 at KeyArena.
After LSU (19-13) outplayed Washington in the first set, Vansant handled more than 40 percent of UW’s attacks in the final three sets to finish with 24 kills on 54 swings with just four errors (.370) and lead UW to a challenging win, 17-25, 25-18, 25-21, 25-19.
“This kid,” UW coach Jim McLaughlin said, while gesturing to Vansant, “did some good things, especially at crunch time when we had to get a kill.”
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Facing a scrappy team that produced one critical dig after another, Washington hit just .178 for the night (56 kills, 27 errors, 163 attacks), UW’s third-lowest hitting percentage of the season.
“They play very good defense and can put a lot of pressure on you,” McLaughlin said. “They’ve got a nice edge to them, and it forced us to respond.
“The numbers weren’t great, but we fought hard, and the girls tapped out emotionally and got some big swings.”
Kaleigh Nelson posted 12 kills and improved as the night went on, committing only two of her nine errors in the final two sets. She and Lianna Sybeldon (six kills) combined for a pair of stuff blocks late in the fourth set and Cassie Strickland ended it with a blast down the line.
• The UW joins USC and Stanford in the Sweet 16. The Pac-12 sent nine teams, the most of any conference, to the NCAAs, but five lost second-round matches Saturday and Arizona State lost Friday.