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Volleyball finishes dominant weekend with sweep of rival Tennessee

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Craig Skinner hadn't used a timeout all weekend. Through three sets of a Friday victory over Ole Miss and the first two against Tennessee on Sunday, Kentucky was dominant so he didn't need to.

But as UK looked to finish off a second sweep in three days, the rival Lady Volunteers wouldn't go away. When Tennessee closed to within 18-17 in the third, Skinner finally called a timeout.

Displeased with the drop-off in his team's play from the opening two sets, Skinner called the Cats to the sideline. They reacted well to his message, scoring seven of the next nine points to salt away another win.

"We were not very sharp in that third set 'til the end," Skinner said. "It's the level of concentration we have to have and the way we were playing, it was good, suffocating defense and I just felt like we let up a little bit in set three. So it was good to see us respond at the end."

UK got back to the way it had played all weekend to move to 12-3 on the season and a perfect 4-0 through the first two weekends of Southeastern Conference play. All told, the Cats outscored Ole Miss and Tennessee 150-86 in six sets - no easy feat against conference foes.

"I think the thing I'm most proud of is that we limited our hitting errors and we limited our mistakes on our side of the net," Skinner said. "We had a couple OK streaks, but for us to be efficient on what we we're doing I think is the most important thing in my opinion."

UK committed just 15 total errors on the weekend after hitting .348 on Sunday. Whitney Billings once again led the way with 13 kills, showing impressive awareness with a number of touch kills.

"We work on hitting off speed when you can't kill the ball," Skinner said. "We need to know where the open spots on the court are, if the block is up or if we don't have our feet to the ball. We did a good job of that this weekend. There were a couple spots we could take advantage of and our team knew the game plan, did a good job getting the ball in the right spot."

The Cats were similarly effective on serve, posting a season-high 10 aces.

"That was as much pressure as we've put on a team with our serve in a while," Skinner said. "And they have some very good passers on their team and I thought we did a nice job of hitting the zones that (assistant coach) Lindsey (Gray-Walton) was giving. Against good teams and as we go through the season, we're going to have to do that because you can't just align your block all the time. Your serve's got to give you opportunities to score."

If UK can duplicate that serving performance this weekend, it will be a major boost. The No. 19 Cats travel to face No. 3 Florida on Friday with an early edge in the SEC race on the line. The teams are among just three unbeatens left in the conference and UK is looking forward to the opportunity to play one of the nation's best teams.

"It'll be a fun match," Skinner said. "I know our team will take this week serious to prepare so I'm not going to worry about the effort in practice, but we just need to make sure we're focused on the right things."

Consistency has been UK's hallmark this season, particularly in recent weeks. The Cats have won seven straight matches and 19 of their last 20 sets in playing their best volleyball of the year.

"They seem to be ready to go each and every match," Skinner said. "I don't really sense and kind of different team depending on who we're playing, whether it's home or on the road and that's a good sign of senior leadership and our captains making sure that everybody's engaged."

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