STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Blair Brown’s mighty right arm pushed three-time defending champion Penn State a step closer to another trip to the NCAA national semifinals.
The 6-foot-5 senior had 24 kills and the fourth-seeded Nittany Lions swept Oklahoma 25-23, 25-23, 25-15 on Friday night to extend their record home winning streak to 93 matches.
Penn State advances to face Duke in Saturday night’s regional final, with the winner getting a trip to next weekend’s final four in Kansas City.
“You want me to read the stats?” Oklahoma coach Santiago Restrepo responded when asked if Brown was the difference. “Twenty-four kills. I would say so. ... She’s an All-American for a reason.”
Oklahoma (23-11) stayed close much of the night, especially during a sloppy first set for Penn State that included six attack errors by the Nittany Lions. Sallie McLaurin led the Sooners with 11 kills.
Penn State’s imposing frontline led by Brown proved too much down the stretch in front of the Nittany Lions’ rowdy student section. The loud, loyal tournament following can turn 5,800-seat Rec Hall into a stuffy, hostile arena for opponents.
Alyssa D’Errico had 15 digs for Penn State, seeking a fourth straight national title.
“Obviously, Penn State is a great team. They have phenomenal size,” Duke coach Jolene Nagel said after the Blue Devils beat Missouri in four sets earlier Friday.
In other brackets Friday night, Purdue upset top seed Florida in three sets in a regional semifinal in Austin, Texas, and No. 3 Stanford defeated Ohio State in four sets in Dayton, Ohio. No. 2 Nebraska was scheduled to face Washington later Friday night in Seattle.
None of the top seeds had as favorable early draw as Penn State, placed in a bracket that had it playing at home the first two weekends of the tourney. The Nittany Lions haven’t lost in cozy Rec Hall since falling to Tennessee in an NCAA regional match in 2005.
Nearly every dig, set and spike is accompanied by some kind of chant from the student section — usually shouting out the letters “P-S-U.”
“It’s now or never, we have to have energy when we walk into the gym, to have all these people there supporting us,” Brown said. “The energy has got to be there.”