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Volleyball bounces back with sweep of LSU

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Whitney Billings led Kentucky with 16 kills and 14 digs. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) Whitney Billings (No. 1) led Kentucky with 16 kills and 14 digs. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
The weekend didn't go particularly as planned for Kentucky. With two Southeastern Conference opponents coming into town in Arkansas and Louisiana State, Kentucky hoped to defend its home court and bolster its SEC record.

Then came Friday night when Arkansas came into Memorial Coliseum and stunned the Wildcats, leaving with a 3-0 win.

But as the Wildcats have been able to do often this season, they bounced back right away on Sunday and atoned for their loss to Louisiana State earlier in the season with sweep of the Tigers. It was a much-needed win for the Wildcats' psyche after Friday's match.

"It's always important to respond after not getting the win you want on Friday night," said Kentucky head coach Craig Skinner. "LSU has been very good over the last couple of weeks and it was important for us to jump on them early. Our blocking defense did a good job of that."

It looked like Kentucky would be in for another battle early on. The Tigers came out firing early and the first set appeared eerily similar to Friday night. But UK never wavered and continued to fight back as the first set went back and forth. Led by the efforts of sophomore outside hitter Lauren O'Conner, who pitched in seven first-set kills, Kentucky created some distance from LSU towards the end of the set.

Kentucky's defense was also instrumental in winning the first set 25-19 victory over the Tigers. The Wildcats were physical at the net from the onset of the match, including six blocks of their eight blocks in the first set led by junior Alexandra Morgan's three.

"Their offense is really fast, especially the middles," said O'Conner. "It was definitely important to get back with them and get back to base and be up on them to get blocks and get touches."

The second set was a forgettable one for both teams early on. Each team committed several unforced errors early as they traded points once more. But Kentucky would manage to clean things up.

Grabbing an 11-7 lead in the second set, Kentucky forced former Kentucky head coach and current LSU head coach Fran Flory into taking a timeout. That didn't slow the Cats down much as Whitney Billings continued UK's dominance at the net and blocked another LSU attacker.

While Billings was discouraging LSU attackers, she was infuriating their defenders in the second set with eight of her team-high 16 kills after tallying just two in the first set.

The Tigers looked to have something cooking near the end of the second frame as they pulled to within two points of the Cats at 18-16. It would be too little, too late, however, as the Wildcats rallied to put the Tigers down 25-18 in the second.

It looked as if LSU would make some noise in the third set and try to hop back into the match. The Tigers got off to the exact start that they had hoped, jumping out in front to a 12-6 lead. The 12-6 lead turned into 15-8, and it felt like LSU was going to cruise to a third set win.

Not so fast.

As Kentucky had seen earlier this season, even a 2-0 set lead isn't safe, so in order to ensure a win, the Cats decided that three sets would be enough on this day. The Wildcats, fueled by a 7-0 run and a great serving display from senior libero Stephanie Klefot, came all the way back to take a 23-20 lead late in the third set.

The Cats would grab a 24-22 match-point opportunity, and on her 32nd attempt of the match, O'Conner put the hammer down for her 14th kill of the match to give the Wildcats the three-set sweep.

O'Conner and Billings were huge for Kentucky all day, and were instrumental in their comeback effort in the third set, but Billings' was particularly more impressive with her defense. She picked up her eighth double-double of the season with a match-high 14 digs to go along with her team-leading 16 kills. Klefot and senior setter Christine Hartmann kicked in 13 digs apiece as well.

It was an impressive victory for the Cats, especially after Friday's disappointing result. Skinner was particularly proud of his team's bounce-back effort Sunday afternoon.

"I was proud by the fact that we were able to come back and make plays at the end," said Skinner. "We had a nice serving run at the end that gave us some momentum. Something definitely to feel good about."

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