No. 17 Florida Rallies for 3-1 Win over No. 20 Kentucky
LEXINGTON, Ky. – The No. 17 Florida Gators rallied for a 3-1 (22-25, 25-21, 25-22, 25-20) win over No. 20 Kentucky on Sunday afternoon to split the season series 1-1 with both teams winning on the opponent’s home court. It marked the first loss of the season within Southeastern Conference action for the Wildcats.
“Today was frustrating,” said 11th-year head coach Craig Skinner. “I didn’t think that we played really well and Florida did some nice things with their blocking. I didn’t think we took as many chances as we needed to. When you’re in a match with a top-20 team, you have to play a lot more aggressive.”
With the loss, Kentucky drops to 13-6 overall on the year and 6-1 in league play. Florida improves to 13-4 and 5-3 within the SEC. UK will return to action with two road matches next week. Up first is a date at Alabama on Friday followed by a trip to Ole Miss on Sunday.
Sophomore Ashley Dusek had another sparkling match for the Wildcats with a match-high 28 digs. She combined for 68 digs in nine sets of play this weekend for an average of 7.56 digs per frame. Junior outside hitter Anni Thomasson and senior setter Morgan Bergren both logged double-doubles for the Blue and White. Thomasson posted 11 kills and 12 digs, while Bergren registered 43 assists and 11 scoops on the afternoon. Sophomore Darian Mack paced the attack with a team-best 14 kills, while classmate Emily Franklin notched a career-best 12 on a blazing .579 attacking percentage.
Three Wildcats had four blocks apiece in Bergren, Franklin and sophomore Kaz Brown. Freshman Brooke Morgan contributed eight kills and a pair of blocks, while classmate McKenzie Watson posted eight scoops on the day. Freshman Olivia Daily had one dig and a set-clinching ace in the opening frame.
Florida opened the match with a kill to the back row, but Morgan fired back when she split the defense on the very next play. Kentucky earned the largest lead of the early going at 5-3 on a kill from Mack. A 5-0 run by the Wildcats pushed the lead to 8-3 and forced the Gators to burn an early timeout. Franklin had a kill and teamed up with Bergren for a block during the spurt. Following the break, Thomasson fired a kill off of the block and the Wildcats went in front by a 9-3 score. The Gators would not go away, however, and pulled back to within three at 12-9. Kentucky opted for a timeout to attempt to quell the threat. Florida would eventually tie the score at 14 apiece. A great hustle play by Watson extended a rally that UK was able to convert to reclaim a multi-point lead at 16-14. Florida continued to fight and eventually took a lead of its own at 18-17. Kentucky took its final timeout of the set trailing 19-17. Out of the timeout, Brown charted a kill and then Mack and Franklin teamed up for a block to tie the score once again, this time at 19. Bergren’s crafty kill off of the block enabled the Cats to once again capture the lead and force the Gators into their final timeout. Consecutive kills from Franklin earned UK a 22-20 lead late in the set. After Florida pulled to within one, Kentucky closed out the set with a kill from Morgan and a timely ace from Dailey for the 25-22 victory. Kentucky charted a staggering 20 kills on a .318 hitting clip. Thomasson led the way with six, but Franklin was a perfect 5-for-5. Dusek and Thomasson both had five digs in the frame and Franklin paced the defensive effort at the net with two blocks.
The Wildcats jumped in front by a 2-1 score to begin the second stanza. From there the teams would trade points until Kentucky forced the Gators into consecutive miscues to grab a 7-5 lead early. Florida would eventually fight back and take a 9-8 edge. The visitors stretched the lead to an 11-9 advantage and the Wildcats chose to take a timeout. UK burned its final timeout trailing 14-9. A kill from Mack helped the Wildcats pull to within two at 16-14 forcing Florida into a timeout. Kills from Mack and Brown enabled the home team to come back from a six-point deficit in the set to tie things at 16 all. The Gators would respond with a 4-0 run to take a 21-17 advantage they would not relinquish en route to a 25-21 win to even the match at one set apiece.
Florida opened the third set by earning a commanding lead at 4-1. Kentucky clawed back and tied the score at four apiece on a Watson kill off of a free ball. The home team grabbed its first lead of the set at 6-5 by capitalizing on a Florida miscue. Mack stretched the lead to two at 8-6 with a smashing kill on an overpass. Consecutive kills from Franklin followed by a mishit by the Gators enabled the Wildcats to push the lead to three at 11-8. The visitors eventually pulled to within one at 14-13, but a service error allowed the Cats to go in front by multi-points yet again. A 4-1 run highlighted by a pair of blocks from Morgan and Franklin stretched Kentucky’s advantage to 18-14. A two-point swing by the Gators prompted the Wildcats to take a timeout. A block from Florida and a misfire by the Cats enabled the Gators to tie the score at 22 late in the frame. Following a Kentucky timeout, the Gators scored three-straight to earn a 25-22 third set win overcoming a 22-19 deficit to score the final six points of the set for the win.
Mack tooled the block for the first point of the fourth frame. From there the teams would swap points back-and-forth until the Gators shook free for three-straight and a 4-2 edge. Kentucky continued to fight back and with a Bergren tool of the block, UK recaptured the lead at 7-6. From there the teams would exchange points until a cross-court smash by Morgan lifted UK to a 13-11 edge. The Gators would not go away, however, and the score rolled to another tie at 14 apiece. The spurt of points from the visitors continued as they took a 17-14 lead. Back-to-back blocks for the Wildcats allowed the home team to pull to within one at 17-16 and the Gators opted for a timeout. Following the timeout, Florida scored two in a row to once again take a three-point lead at 19-16. It would be all the breathing room the visitors would need as they claimed the match behind a 25-20 fourth set victory.
By the Numbers
68 – Total digs for sophomore libero Ashley Dusek in nine sets of play this weekend. That’s good for an average of 7.5 per set.
43 – Assists from setter Morgan Bergren en route to a double-double effort as she also contributed 11 digs.
9 –Today’s loss snapped a nine-match winning streak for the Wildcats including opening the SEC slate to six-straight victories.
5 – Team-high fifth double-double effort of the season for Anni Thomasson who had 11 kills and 12 digs on the afternoon.
Kentucky’s Memorial Coliseum will play host to the NCAA Regionals Dec. 11-12. UK is one of four sites selected for the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight matchups with one team advancing to the Final Four in Omaha, Neb., from the Lexington Region. This marks the third time in five seasons Memorial Coliseum will host this premier volleyball event.