Defensive Surge Leads to Sweep of Auburn

Sept. 27, 2013

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AUBURN, Ala. – A spectacular defensive performance led to a 3-0 (25-19, 25-20, 25-20) sweep for No. 18 Kentucky over the homestanding Auburn Tigers on Friday night for the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams. Kentucky registered 60 digs which ranked as a Craig Skinner-era high for a three-set match. UK also posted 12.5 blocks to rattle Auburn into a mere 29 kills on .102 hitting percentage for the match.

Senior Alexandra Morgan logged a season-best nine blocks, while junior Jackie Napper led three players in double-figures with 16 digs.

“I’m really excited about our defensive performance tonight,” Skinner said. “Our blockers were more aggressive tonight and followed the game plan and executed it well. Our floor defense was also a difference-maker tonight.”

With the victory the Wildcats improve to 9-3 on the season and 1-0 in league competition. Auburn drops to 9-4 and 0-1 in SEC play. Kentucky resumes league action with a road matchup at Alabama on Sunday at 2:30 p.m. ET. The match will be Alabama’s first SEC competition of the season.

Senior Whitney Billings led the way offensively with a match-high 17 kills on a .312 hitting clip. She also added 14 digs and four block assists. Sophomore Shelby Workman totaled eight kills, 10 digs and a pair of aces. Morgan and freshman Anni Thomasson both registered seven kills apiece. Thomasson added eight digs to the defensive effort. Sophomore setter Morgan Bergren dished out 37 assists while adding eight digs and four blocks in the win. Sophomore Sara Schwarzwalder contributed four kills and a trio of blocks.

Auburn raced out to a 4-0 lead in the opening stanza before a kill from Workman ended the run. The Blue and White utilized a 5-2 run capped by consecutive kills from Workman to knot the score at nine apiece. Kentucky then stretched the run to a 7-2 scamper for an 11-9 advantage forcing the Tigers to use their first timeout.

Kentucky’s assent didn’t conclude there. After trailing 8-4 the Wildcats put together a 14-5 stretch to take an 18-13 lead. Auburn burned its final timeout to attempt to quell the run. Kentucky wasted little time concluding the frame with a 25-19 opening set victory.

UK posted 19 kills on .238 hitting with Billings connecting for seven. Workman added five, while Morgan laid down a trio. Billings paced the defensive effort with eight digs, while Morgan was in on four blocks. Bergren dished out 14 assists and added four scoops. UK’s defense logged 22 digs compared to just 13 from Auburn. The Tigers were flustered into connecting for just eight kills on a .105 hitting clip.

The Blue and White opened the second set by taking a commanding 5-0 lead highlighted by a kill and rejection from Billings. Kentucky didn’t let off the gas; however, as the Wildcats extended the lead to an 11-3 margin before Auburn called its first timeout. The breathing room would be all the more the Cats would need en route to a 25-20 second set victory.

UK struck for 13 kills led by five from the right hand of Thomasson. Workman’s five digs led the defensive charge, while Schwarzwalder’s three blocks led the way at the net. Auburn managed 11 kills on a .081 hitting percentage as UK’s defensive effort continued to agitate the home team.

After Auburn took the opening point of the third set, UK scored the next four including a heady play by Schwarzwalder on an overpass. Back-to-back blocks from Morgan, Thomasson and Billings propelled the Cats to an early 7-2 lead forcing Auburn into a quick timeout. The Tigers fought back and got back to within one at 14-13 when Skinner called a timeout.

Out of the break, Billings found a spot in the deep corner to end the Tiger run. The teams would swap points until UK strung together a pair of points with a kill from Thomasson followed by a block from Morgan and Bergren for a 19-15 edge. Auburn opted to take its final timeout, but the Wildcats would be able to push through and claim the final set by a 25-20 margin as Billings’ 17th kill of the match was the winning point.

Kentucky logged 18 kills in the final frame with Billings leading the charge with seven in the final stanza. Napper paced the defensive effort with 10 digs over the final set, while Billings added six. Morgan tallied three blocks.

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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