Following a Florida timeout late in the first set, freshman Paige Hammons had one job to do: pass a settable ball to one of her teammates so the Gators could tie the score at 24-all.
However, a tough serve from UCLA caused Hammons to overpass the ball onto the Bruins’ side of the court.
Middle blocker Kyra Rogers took advantage of the mistake, swinging her arm through the ball to seal the opening set for UCLA.
The Gators had a rough start in the opening frame of its Sweet 16 matchup with the Bruins. The rest of the contest, however, was a different story.
Florida answered back with a 3-1 win (23-25, 25-17, 25-17, 25-17) Friday night at the O’Connell Center to advance to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament.
Outside hitter Carli Snyder helped the Gators regain momentum with the opening kill of the second set. She played a pivotal role for Florida’s offense, scoring a match-best 18 kills.
In addition to her strong play on offense, Snyder assisted the Gators defensively with 15 digs, the second most on the team behind libero Caroline Knop.
“What led us to be effective offensively definitely started on defense,” Snyder said. “That has carried us all season.”
SEC Player of the Year Rhamat Alhassan helped Florida’s defense in the third set with five block assists, leading the Gators to a 25-17 win in the frame. She ended the night with a match-high of 10 blocks.
After a run of kills in the fourth set gave UCLA an early 10-9 lead, Florida came back with a kill from middle blocker Rachael Kramer and two service aces from Snyder to regain the lead.
Shainah Joseph helped the Gators advance to the regional finals match on Saturday with a match-winning kill down the line.
Moving forward, Florida needs to focus on weaknesses like net violations and service errors, the team’s downfalls made evident in the first set.
Having a tighter control on attack errors and splits in the block will also help make Florida’s advancement in the tournament a little bit easier.
While the team was able to clean up the little things to take the match win, it will be more difficult to regain momentum against tougher competition in the later rounds of the tournaments.
Mia Sokolowski and Allie Gregory were also crucial to Florida’s 3-1 win over UCLA.
Sokolowski came into the match late, but made an impact on a successful Florida offense with four kills on 14 attacks in two sets. Meanwhile, Gregory matched her career-high of 14 digs for the third time this season.
“Sometimes it’s a player that doesn’t lead you in points, but has a timely block or a timely kill that can be the difference maker,” coach Mary Wise said.
Florida’s regional championship match will be Saturday night at 6 against Southern California at the O’Connell Center.
The Gators will join No. 1-seed Penn State, No. 4-seed Kentucky and No. 5-seed Nebraska in the Elite Eight. This year is the first time since 2005 that two teams from the SEC are in the Elite Eight.
“At the most, most difficult of times, for this team to stay this focused, to make key plays...we’ve relied all year on the backs of our seniors and they came through again tonight,” Wise said.
You can follow Mari Faiello on Twitter @faiello_mari, and contact her at email@example.com.