Texas Longhorns to face Florida Gators in NCAA Sweet Sixteen

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This Friday, the No. 3 Longhorns will get to face yet another familiar opponent. In round 3 of NCAA tournament play, Texas will play host to No. 14 Florida on Friday night at 7 p.m. in Gregory Gym. With a win, the Longhorns will play either Wichita State or USC at 8 p.m. on Saturday in Gregory. USC and Wichita State will play at 5 p.m. Friday afternoon.

At the beginning of the season, the Longhorns swept the Florida Gators on the road in University Park, Pennsylvania, as part of the Nike Big Four Volleyball Classic.

“It will be a battle,” Texas head coach Jerritt Elliott said of playing Florida in the tournament this weekend. “It will be a challenge. We have to play great and in order to do that we will have to have the crowd here.”

The last time they met, Florida was always one step behind Texas, forcing the sets into extra points before Texas came away with the win. The two offenses had almost identical hitting averages with Texas turning in a clip of .313 and Florida turning in one of .314. Texas had 49 kills and 13 errors while Florida had 51 kills and 13 errors.

The difference between the two teams, and what led to the Longhorn victory, was defense and serving. Texas claimed more points off of service aces and committed far fewer errors than the Gators. In addition, the Texas defense had slightly better blocking than Florida.

“We’re very focused on what Florida could do” Elliott said of preparing for a team he has already faced this year. “They progressed and got a lot better over the season, as did we. It will be a battle.”

All this week, the Longhorns have been working on improving ball control in addition to tweaking defensive schemes to give them the edge this weekend and through out the rest of the tournament.

“We are one of the most physical teams in the country, but with your physicality we are not as good with ball control,” Elliott said. “We have got to be able to find that balance. We are using power to win games, while other teams are more controlled with the ball. We will see if our ball control and defense can get better.”

If the Longhorns can take care of business against the Gators, they will face the winner of the game between Wichita State and USC, played earlier Friday at 5 p.m. in Gregory.

To get to the Sweet 16, Wichita State defeated No. 11 Kansas on the road in Lawrence, Kan. in front of a sell-out crowd. Though Kansas came out with the first set, the Shockers overwhelmed the Jayhawks on offense through the next three sets coming away with the 3-1 win.

USC swept Saint Mary’s College of California at home in Los Angeles to earn its spot in the Austin regional semifinal this weekend. St. Mary’s put up resistance in the first set, forcing extra points. However, they fell easily in sets two and three to give the Trojans their fifth sweet 16 appearance in seven years.

Texas will have some insight into USC’s game play if they should meet in the round of eight Saturday evening. Before coming to Texas, Elliott served on the volleyball staff for the Trojans for six seasons, his final two as interim head coach before the arrival of current head coach Mike Haley.

“That is fantastic to be home,” Elliott said of hosting the regional semifinals and of the upcoming matches. “It provided us some routine to be able to stay at home, it helped us this week, but most of all it is good because of the fans ... It’s going to come down to a few points. We’re a confident bunch and we believe in what we can do.”