Kentucky Rallies to Take Down the Tide

Sept. 29, 2013

Box Score

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – After dropping the opening set on the road at Alabama, the 18th-ranked Kentucky volleyball team rallied for a 3-1 (15-25, 25-19, 25-19, 25-23) victory in front of 1,281 fans in Foster Auditorium on Sunday afternoon. Senior Whitney Billings logged a match-high 14 kills on .448 hitting while leading the team with six blocks and eight digs. Classmate Alexandra Morgan added eight kills on .538 hitting and six block assists in the winning effort.

“I’m really proud of our mental toughness and effort after set one,” UK coach Craig Skinner said. “Alabama is a very good team; and two of our seniors stepped up for us when we needed them the most on the road, Zan in the second set and Whitney in the last two.”

With the victory, Kentucky improves to 10-3 on the season and is off to a 2-0 start in Southeastern Conference action. Alabama drops to 12-3 and 0-1 in league play. UK returns home Friday, Oct. 4th with a 7 p.m. ET tilt vs. Ole Miss for the SEC home opener. UK will play Tennessee on Sunday at 1:30 p.m. ET.

Junior Lauren O’Conner added 11 kills on .310 hitting and a career-high six block assists. Sophomore setter Morgan Bergren chipped in with a career-high eight kills, 36 assists and six digs. Sophomore Sara Schwarzwalder added six blocks and seven kills. Freshman Anni Thomasson contributed five kills, five digs and a trio of blocks. Junior libero Jackie Napper totaled eight digs, a kill and four assists in the win.

Alabama scored the first two points of the second set before O’Conner connected for a kill across the court. A block from the tandem of Morgan and Billings tied things at five apiece. After the teams traded points, the Tide mounted a 3-0 run to take an 11-8 edge and Skinner opted to take his first timeout. Kentucky fired back with a 4-0 run of its own highlighted by a pair of kills from O’Conner and a solo block by Bergren to take a 12-11 lead. Alabama chose to take its first timeout to suppress the Wildcat threat.

The run didn’t end there, however, as Morgan charted an ace followed by a kill from Billings down the line. Schwarzwalder and O’Conner teamed up for a block before Alabama eventually converted a kill to end the 7-0 push by the visitors. Kentucky continued to dominate and following a kill from Bergren into the middle of the floor to make the score 21-16 in favor of UK, the home team took its final timeout. UK cruised to the finish line with Schwarzwalder plastering a kill from the frame’s winning point and a 25-19 win.

The Blue and White struck for 16 kills on .538 hitting, while picking up its defensive effort to the tune of four blocks which limited Alabama to 12 kills on .185 hitting.

Morgan began the scoring in the third frame with a slicing kill through the middle of the defense. It would be the first of two kills she would have as the Blue and White opened to a 3-0 lead. The Tide notched a 3-1 run to tie things at four. From there the teams would exchange points until the home team grabbed a 10-7 lead after three-consecutive aces. Billings ended the run with a kill down the line and then the UK defense forced the Tide into three-straight hitting errors to knot the score at 11.

A block from Billings and Schwarzwalder fueled a 3-0 run by the Cats for an 18-15 lead late in the third set, and Alabama opted to use its final timeout. The Tide fought back and pulled to within two at 20-18 forcing Kentucky to burn a timeout. Out of the break, O’Conner struck for a kill to end the string of Bama points en route to another 25-19 set victory for a 2-1 lead in the match.

The Wildcats logged 11 kills on .333 hitting, while Alabama managed 11 on a mere .034 hitting percentage. Kentucky turned back four Tide attacks and forced the home team into six additional erroneous attacks including the set-clinching point.

Alabama scored the first two points of the fourth frame on Wildcat hitting errors, before Bergren connected for a kill to keep the defense honest. The Tide stretched its early advantage to a 5-2 margin. A kill and block from Schwarzwalder propelled UK to a tie at six apiece. Billings rifled her 10th kill of the match to give UK an 8-6 lead and Alabama opted to use an early timeout. The Tide would answer the run with one of its own to eventually claw back and tie the score at 11 apiece.

Out of the break, O’Conner converted an overpass and the Wildcat defense forced consecutive Alabama miscues for a 14-11 lead. Another kill from Billings lifted the visitors to its largest lead of the fourth set at 17-13 and Alabama burned its final timeout. Following the break, Thomasson teamed up with Schwarzwalder for another Big Blue block. The Tide continued to fight and brought the score back to within two at 21-19, and Skinner chose to take his final timeout to settle his squad.

Following the timeout, Alabama registered its seventh ace of the night to inch closer at 21-20. Morgan sliced a kill off of Alabama’s high hands to break the run. Kentucky committed its 10th service error of the match to make it a one-point lead again. O’Conner and Morgan then teamed up for a rejection after a spectacular defensive effort by Thomasson to keep the play alive to make the score 23-21 in favor of UK. The Tide fired back with a kill cross court to again cut the lead to one. A kill through the hands of UK’s block knotted things at 23. O’Conner drilled a ball the Tide couldn’t handle to give the Cats match point. O’Conner won the match with her 11th kill of the night for a 25-23 fourth set win.

Billings converted the opening point of the match with a kill, but the Tide answered with a kill of its own to knot the score. The teams swapped points to open the first set of action highlighted by a tremendous rally from both squads that was capped by a Schwarzwalder kill. Alabama took the largest lead of the early going at 8-6, but a kill from Thomasson ended the run with a cross-court kill. Alabama responded with a 4-0 run to take an 11-7 edge, forcing UK into an early timeout. The home team extended the lead to 15-8, and Skinner opted to take his second timeout of the stanza.

The margin would be all the more the home squad would need en route to a 25-15 victory. Kentucky managed just 13 kills on .270 hitting with Morgan and Bergren both notching a trio. Alabama benefited from UK’s miscues and capitalized on a .484 hitting clip with 17 kills.

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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