UK Falls in Five-Set Thriller Despite Career-Night from Billings

Aug 31, 2013

Box Score

LONG BEACH, Calif. - A career-high 26-kill effort from senior Whitney Billings was not enough to propel the 17th-ranked Kentucky volleyball team past Illinois in a thrilling five-set match in Long Beach, Calif., on Saturday night. Billings posted the career-high tally to couple with 13 digs in her second-straight double-double effort. Additionally, the Helena, Ala., native reached the 1,000-kill plateau to become the 14th player in program history to achieve the feat.

"We were closer to our potential tonight, but we still have some things to iron out" UK coach Craig Skinner said. "Whitney Billings was very good tonight, and we need other people to step up and terminate balls when we need points. There were a lot of great plays at times tonight. We have to give credit to Illinois for stepping up in sets four and five after trailing 2-1."

Kentucky falls to 0-2 to begin the year, while Illinois, who is receiving votes in the preseason poll, improves to 2-1 on the young season. The Wildcats wrap up the opening weekend of action with a date against the Long Beach State 49ers on Sunday at 8 p.m. ET.

In the decisive fifth set, Kentucky opened the scoring with a kill from Billings. UK would extend the early advantage to a 3-1 edge when Billings got another kill. Illinois would then go on a 4-0 run to earn a 4-3 edge and would never yield the lead again. Kentucky got back to within two at 10-8 on a kill from sophomore Shelby Workman, but Illinois would go on a 5-1 run for the victory.

No other player reached double-figures in the kills' column, as sophomore Sara Schwarzwalder and junior Lauren O'Conner were the players with next highest totals at seven kills each. Schwarzwalder led the defensive charge with seven blocks on the night.

Four players tallied 10 or more digs with Billings reaching 13. Freshman Anni Thomasson posted a career-high 15 scoops to lead the column. Sophomore Shelby Workman notched 11 and junior Jackie Napper had 10.

Sophomore setter Morgan Bergren dished out a career-high 50 assists to go with six blocks and five kills.

Kentucky got off to a great start by claiming 25-20 opening set victory. UK notched 13 kills on .256 hitting in the frame with Billings leading the charge with four including her 1,000th career hammer. Thomasson paced the defensive effort with seven digs in the stanza.

Senior Alexandra Morgan opened the scoring in the first set as UK raced out to an early 2-0 lead. Kentucky would stretch its lead to 11-4 on a solo rejection from Billings. The Wildcats reached its largest spread of the opening stanza at 17-10 following an ace from Morgan. Illinois would fight back to within 23-19 before a kill from Schwarzwalder claimed the opening set in favor of Kentucky.

Out of the break with the match tied at one set apiece, Kentucky quickly jumped out in front in the third frame to grab a 4-1 lead. The Illini fought back and knotted the score at 10 apiece and would eventually take a lead at 14-13. Kentucky fired back and tied the score at 15 before utilizing a 5-0 run highlighted by a monstrous kill from Billings to make the score 22-17 in favor of the Cats. It would be all Kentucky from there as the Blue and White went on to win the set by a 25-22 score capped by another kill from Billings.

Billings launched six kills in the frame to pace UK to 13 kills on .241 hitting. Thomasson had four scoops to lead the defensive charge en route to the 25-22 win and a 2-1 edge in the match.

Illinois fired back with a 25-19 second set win. The Illini captured the opening point in the frame and never looked back holding the lead from start to finish. Kentucky notched just 12 kills on a .138 percentage. Billings again led the charge with five and also led things defensively with three digs.

The Illini fought back to force a decisive fifth frame behind a 25-19 fourth set victory.  Illinois capitalized on a .400 hitting percentage and no blocks from the Wildcats to claim the frame. Billings again led the way with seven kills in the set, with Napper picking up three digs.

Kentucky's Memorial Coliseum will play host to the NCAA Regionals Dec. 13-14. UK is one of four sites selected for the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight matchups with one team advancing to the Final Four in Seattle, Wash., from the Lexington Region. This marks the second time in three seasons Memorial Coliseum will host this premier volleyball event.

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