- Associated Press - Friday, December 18, 2015

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - This isn’t Jerritt Elliott’s most imposing Texas volleyball team. It’s his most experienced, though, when it comes to the NCAA tournament.

That seasoning served the Longhorns well Thursday night at the sold-out CenturyLink Center, where they won a battle of wills against Minnesota in the national semifinals.

Amy Neal had a career-high 25 kills and Texas won in four sets to move to the championship match Saturday against No. 4 Nebraska, a four-set winner over No. 9 Kansas in the second semifinal.

“This is a team that never gives up. There’s a reason why I love coaching this group,” Elliott said. “We lose Chi and freshmen Mo comes in, and we’re able to kind of step up our game and play well. I’m happy to get to spend two more days with them.”

The third-seeded Longhorns (30-2) didn’t miss a beat after freshman Morgan Johnson replaced middle blocker Chiaka Ogbogu, who left early in the fourth set because of cramps.

The No. 2 Gophers (30-5) hung in until the end. Neither team led by four points until the 156th rally of the match. There were 44 ties and 10 lead changes as Texas won 26-24, 27-25, 23-25, 25-21.

“Really, it was a couple of heavyweights going at it,” Gophers coach Hugh McCutcheon said. “If you look at the balance of these teams coming into the match, you knew it would be close.”

Neal, the Big 12 player of the year, took a career-high 67 swings from the left side and hit only .194 because Minnesota’s Hannah Tapp and Molly Lohman set up an effective block against her.

Texas, in semifinals for the fourth straight time and seventh time in eight years, will take a 12-match winning streak into the final. They’ll play for their second title, and first since 2012.

Paulina Cerame had 19 kills and Yasmeen Bedart-Ghani added 15 for Texas

“For Yaazie to play the way that she did as a freshman and with no nerves is a tribute to her,” Elliott said. “But, also, I think it’s a tribute to our culture in terms of getting her ready.”

The Longhorns scored three straight points to go up 18-15 in the fourth set, and a kill by Neal made it 23-18. Neal beat Tapp with a big hit to get to match point, and after Minnesota rallied for a couple points, Neal finished it with the last of her kills.

“They were hitting well out of system, and our plan was to knock them out of system a lot,” Minnesota’s Daly Santana said. “That wasn’t working as well as we thought. Props to them. They do a really good job.”

Santana, the Big Ten player of the year, led Minnesota with 21 kills. Tapp had 18 kills and Paige Tapp added 13. Minnesota, which came to Omaha hitting a tournament-best .368, hit .271 against the Longhorns.

“We weren’t as good as we’ve been in other weeks in this tournament,” McCutcheon said. “We hit .270. It’s not like we got rolled out there.”

Ogbogu was the Austin Regional MVP last week after making 28 kills against UCLA and Florida. She had nine kills on 18 swings against the Gophers. Elliott said Ogbogu will be ready to play Saturday.

“We thought we were able to manage it through kind of a half a game, and then it got worse,” Elliott said. “We made a decision to get her some medical attention to try to see if we could get her back in case we went to game five. But I have no worries that she will be back, no concerns.”

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