No. 24 Kentucky Downs Auburn in Five on Senior Night
LEXINGTON, Ky. – The 24th-ranked Kentucky Wildcats wrapped up the regular season in dramatic fashion on Friday evening, toppling the Auburn Tigers in five sets, 3-2 (21-25, 25-17, 21-25, 25-14, 15-13), in Memorial Coliseum in front of 1,884 cheering fans on Senior Night.
It took a full five frames to find a winner, with little to separate the two in the early going as they tied at 4-4 early on. Kentucky scored once before Auburn took three straight and made it 5-7, leading to a Kentucky timeout. Freshman Brooke Morgan responded with a kill before Auburn took the next point and the Cats trailed by two at the break, 6-8. A big kill from junior Anni Thomasson pulled it within one at 8-9. Over the next three points, sophomore Kaz Brown grabbed a kill and a block to tie the set at 10-10, forcing Auburn to call for time. Kills from Brown and classmate Darian Mack forced Auburn’s second timeout at 14-12.
Following the timeout, Auburn’s Breanna Barksdale registered a kill to make the match 14-13. It was only fitting that the match ended with the two seniors who had been honored prior finishing it, as senior setter Morgan Bergren dished the ball to classmate Sara Schwarzwalder, who thundered it home for a 15-13 win in the tiebreaker.
The win gives 11th-year head coach Craig Skinner his 250th career victory. The milestone adds to an already impressive career for Skinner, who has reached 10-consecutive NCAA tournaments, totaled at least 17 wins in every season and has guided the Wildcats to 20 or more wins in eight of the past nine years.
“I’m really proud of the effort, intensity and passion that our team played with,” Skinner said. “I thought it was a match that we needed. Auburn played great and we responded. It’s pretty cool to see two seniors end a match on a connection like that for the winning kill. They’ve put a lot of hard work and energy into this and they’ve given a lot to this program.”
The Wildcats conclude the regular season with a 21-9 mark while going 14-4 in Southeastern conference play. Auburn wraps up play with an 18-12 record including a 10-8 SEC action. Both teams look forward to the NCAA tournament selection show to find out their futures, as Kentucky looks for its 11th-consecutive NCAA tournament appearance. The selection show will air on Sunday Nov. 29 on ESPNU, beginning at 9 p.m. EST.
Kentucky had a host of solid performances en route to the win, with Brown leading the way. The sophomore had an impressive performance, logging her second career double-double with 13 kills and 11 blocks during the outing. Mack led the team with 14 kills while adding four blocks and a dig. Morgan rounded out those scoring double-figure kills with 13. She also notched five blocks and a dig.
Both seniors played notable roles in the match, as Bergren led the team with 46 assists and contributing five digs and six blocks in the mix. Schwarzwalder had five kills including the match-winner while blocking three balls.
Thomasson played a well-rounded game with nine kills, two assists, 16 digs and two blocks. Sophomore middle Emily Franklin had three kills, an ace and three digs. Freshman Olivia Dailey guided the teams serving efforts with a pair of aces while getting nine digs. Sophomore Ashley Dusek and freshman McKenzie Watson both played a large role in the back row. Dusek accounted for 32 digs and five assists. Watson chipped in with 18 digs and a kill.
A pair of kills from Brown tied the match at 2-2 in the early going. The Wildcats and Tigers swapped points before a kill from Morgan tied the match at 7-all. Franklin triggered a 4-1 run with an ace, leading to a Tiger timeout as Kentucky led 11-8. UK didn’t slow down coming out of the break, as Brown notched her fourth kill and Dailey aced Auburn for a five-point lead. Auburn responded with a 3-0 run, prompting Kentucky’s first timeout with a 13-11 lead. Auburn exploded for a 7-0 run before Kentucky halted it on an error. Brown’s fifth kill brought it within one, but Auburn would take the lead at 15-19 when UK used its final timeout. A sideout from Franklin a few points later began a 4-1 run to make it 20-23 and forced an Auburn timeout. Brown got a solo stuff out of the break before an Auburn ace ended the first, 21-25.
The Wildcats went point-for-point early in the second with both teams tied at 6-6 through the first 12 points. A tip from Morgan gave UK a 7-6 lead before she and Brown combined for a block and a two-point advantage. Watson registered a kill on the next play for a 9-6 lead. Auburn came back with four points of its own to pull ahead by one, before Thomasson forced an error and notched a kill for an 11-10 lead. A block from Bergren and Brown extended the run to 4-0 and Auburn called for time. UK didn’t let up, as another ace from Dailey sparked a 3-0 run and Auburn used its final timeout trailing 16-10. Kentucky’s lead would grow to six as Morgan notched her sixth kill for 20-14. Kentucky closed out the second on a 5-3 run, as Morgan finished it off with a cross-body kill for the 25-17 win.
Following an early Auburn point, Bergren made a two-handed kill before Brown denied the Tigers for a 2-1 lead. The teams swapped points to 7-7 before Auburn strung three points together. Thomasson broke up the run with a kill to make it 8-10, but Auburn took the next two when the Wildcats called for time, trailing 8-12. Auburn made a 6-3 run for a 17-11 lead, prompting Kentucky to call for time. A 3-1 Kentucky run made it 14-18 as Brown made a solo block. Auburn made went on a 4-1 spurt when a kill from Thomasson broke it up. Brown followed with a kill to make it 17-22. Kentucky fended off three set points, with Schwarzwalder tallying a block and a kill during the run, but the Cats fell in the third, 25-21.
Thomasson’s seventh kill kicked off the fourth set as Kentucky jumped to a 3-0 lead following a Tigers error and Mack’s seventh kill. A kill and a block from Mack opened the gap to 6-1 when Auburn called for time. The senior duo extended the lead to 7-1 on a combo block. The Wildcats cruised to an eight-point largely in part to four kills from Mack during the first 16 points, when Auburn called time at 12-4. Brown logged blocks eight and nine while Bergren nabbed a kill and a block for an 18-7 lead. Kentucky would jump ahead to 22-8 before Auburn took five straight points to make it 22-13. The Blue and White only allowed one more point as an Auburn error ended it, 25-14.
See paragraphs two and three.
By the Numbers
250 - With the victory, head coach Craig Skinner earns his 250th career win
21 – The Wildcats conclude the regular season with 21 wins, including 14 in SEC play
19 – UK registered 19 total blocks in the match, marking a new season high
9 – The NCAA tournament selection show airs at 9 p.m. on ESPNU, when Kentucky will likely find out its next opponent
2 – Kaz Brown logged her second career double-double with 13 kill and 11 blocks – she also had one against Louisville with 10 kills and 13 blocks
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.