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Volleyball fends off scrappy Ole Miss squad for fourth straight win

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Ashley Frazier led Kentucky with a career-high 20 kills Friday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) Ashley Frazier led Kentucky with a career-high 20 kills Friday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
As is customary in the Southeastern Conference, Kentucky had to scrap out a win over Ole Miss Friday night to extend its winning streak to four matches. The last two wins, five-set victories on the road, took a lot of fight and effort the close out the victories.

Friday night was no different.

Though Kentucky had gone down to Oxford, Miss., and handled the Rebels rather swiftly with a 3-0 sweep, Ole Miss was out for revenge and gave UK all it could handle. It took a late rally near the end of set three to swing the momentum back in Kentucky's favor.

At the outset, it looked like Kentucky would have its way with the Rebels once more. The Cats used a balanced attack led by middle blocker Alexandra Morgan, who could not be stopped. The junior tallied four kills and hit .800 for the set while picking up three blocks. Sophomore outside hitter Lauren O'Conner kicked in three kills as UK cruised to a 25-20 victory.

Then Ole Miss got mad and Kentucky went flat.

The tables turned quickly on the Wildcats as Kentucky trailed for most of the second set. Kentucky kept it close, eventually taking a 17-16 lead in the frame, but the Ole Miss momentum was too much for the Cats. Ole Miss would go on a 9-2 run to end the second set and tie things up.

Kentucky head coach Craig Skinner talked last weekend about a certain way his team had been playing the past few matches leading up to Friday's match with the Rebels. Thanks to some tough serving and scrappy play, Ole Miss was successful in keeping UK out of sync.

"I think Mississippi took us out (of our rhythm) by the way the pressured us with the serve," said Skinner. "Those were rockets. But I thought we got back to it sets in three and four and I was really proud of the way we kept our composure."

Composure would be the key the rest of the way as the third set would prove pivotal for both teams, setting the tone for the outcome of the match.

After Ole Miss had evened things up, Kentucky knew it was time to buckle down or else things could slip away quickly.

"We didn't have the intensity and we weren't competing," said senior setter Christine Hartmann who finished with 54 assists on the night. "We needed to pick it up or that match was going to be taken away from us easily."

Ole Miss, riding the momentum of the second-set victory, looked to be the aggressor early on as the Rebels took a quick 4-1 lead. Slowly but surely, the Wildcats were claw their way back. Kentucky used a stuff block and an overpass kill from senior Ashley Frazier to tie things up at six, and it looked as if it was now UK who had the upper hand.

What they had was an unfair advantage in Frazier who put her team on her back and carried it the rest of the way. After compiling just four kills through the first two sets of the match, Hartmann used 16 of her assists on her senior teammate as Frazier pounded 16 kills over the last two frames, including nine in that important third set.

But Frazier was unaware of the total after the match. In fact she was more happy with the way Kentucky battled in that third set to fend off a scrappy Ole Miss squad who seemingly wouldn't back down to the Wildcats.

"They were playing really well and giving it right back to us," said Frazier. "Those games that we had to scrap to win in the past helped us out in this game because we know we can respond when teams come at us like that."

Ole Miss kept coming and even had an opportunity to get back ahead in the third set with the score tied at 20. But the Cats would make the most out of their opportunities to outscore the Rebels 5-2 down the stretch and take a momentum-shifting third-set victory.

"There were a few opportunities that Ole Miss had to extend leads to three or four points," said Skinner. "We were very composed and I think the players were a little more composed than I was. They did a nice job and we have to expect everyone's best shot the rest of the way."

The third set victory took the wind out of Mississippi's sails and Kentucky had its way with the Rebels in the fourth. Actually, Frazier had her way with the Rebels defense, kicking in another seven kills to help her tie her career-high. After having to scratch and claw through the first three sets, UK pounded away.

As crucial as Frazier was to the outcome, several other Wildcats had their hand in the victory. Whitney Billings, Morgan, and O'Conner also finished with double-digit kill totals to go along with Frazier's 20.

As Kentucky finished off their fourth set by a final of 25-16, the Wildcats picked up their fourth win of the year, tying their season-high win streak and putting them one win away from recording their eighth-straight season of at least 17 wins.

Kentucky will look to extend that streak to five matches on Sunday when it hosts the South Carolina Gamecocks for a 1:30 p.m. tilt at Memorial Coliseum.

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