Volleyball Earns Hard-Fought Win at Auburn for 25th Win
The Wildcats (25-5, 14-3 Southeastern Conference) fell behind early in the fourth set but rallied for a hard-fought win to reach the 25-win plateau for the fourth time in head coach Craig Skinner's 10-year tenure.
"I was impressed with Auburn's defense and effort tonight," Skinner said. "We talked before the match about how each match form here on out is a fight, and tonight certainly showed that. I thought we fought well as the match went on. Offensively, we did a great job of scoring points when we needed them under pressure."
The offensive attack was led by senior Lauren O'Conner, who had a match-high 16 kills. Sophomore Anni Thomasson added 11 kills with 15 digs for her 14th double-double of the season, while redshirt freshman Emily Franklin had a career-best 10 kills on a career-high-tying .500 hitting percentage.
Junior Morgan Bergren directed UK to a .331 hitting percentage with 60 kills. Bergren, who had 42 assists, joined freshman Kaz Brown and junior Shelby Workman as one of six Wildcats with at least seven kills in the win.
Senior Jackie Napper, the SEC Libero of the Year, had a match-high 20 digs to lead the Wildcats defensively as UK logged seven blocks. Bergren led UK with five blocks and Franklin added four, two solo. Along with Thomasson's 15 digs, Workman had eight and Bergren had seven.
Kentucky returns home Saturday for its regular season finale. First serve of the Senior Night matchup with Arkansas is set for 7 p.m. ET in Memorial Coliseum.
The Wildcats used a 10-2 run to close the first set for a 25-14 win. UK opened the match with a kill by Thomasson, and the Wildcats quickly extended their lead to 4-1 on an O'Conner kill. Kentucky's lead became four at 6-2 on an Auburn attack error, a cushion they would maintain until Franklin recorded a kill to give UK a 10-5 edge. The Tigers scored three of four to cut UK's lead to three at 15-12. The Wildcats answered in the form of an 8-0 run to take a lead they would not give up. The run began with three Tiger errors, followed by an ace by Napper and three consecutive kills by Thomasson, Franklin and junior Kayla Tronick. The Wildcats' run was halted with UK leading 23-12, but after Auburn scored two, a Thomasson kill was followed by an ace from Workman to seal a 25-14 win.
UK out-hit AU .406 - .088 in the opening set, with a 15-10 kills advantage. Franklin, O'Conner and Thomasson each had four kills, with Thomasson hitting .571. Napper led the defensive effort with five digs and Thomasson added four. The Wildcats out-blocked the Tigers 4-0, led by Bergren's three and Brown and Franklin each with two.
Kentucky used a late run, and stopped an even later Auburn run, to claim a 25-22 win in the third set. UK fell behind 2-0 in the frame, but quickly answered with back-to-back-to-back kills by Thomasson, O'Conner and Franklin to take the lead. After Auburn tied it at 3-3, the Wildcats went on another run, 5-1, to extend their lead to 8-4. Three different UK players had kills in the stretch. The Tigers rallied back to tie the set at 9-9, but Kentucky did not let Auburn to retake the lead. An O'Conner kill capped an extended rally to give the Wildcats a 14-11 lead, and UK's three-point advantage remained until Franklin got a kill on an Auburn overpass to give Kentucky a 19-15 lead. UK's lead was trimmed to two at 24-22, but out of a timeout, O'Conner notched a cross-court kill for the 25-22 win and a 2-1 advantage in the match.
O'Conner's six kills led the Wildcats to .300 hitting in the third set. Thomasson added three kills and a team-high six digs. Napper recorded five digs and Franklin accounted for UK's lone block. The Tigers hit .310 with 17 kills.
The Wildcats fell behind early in the fourth set, but fought back and earned a 25-23 win. Kentucky trailed 5-2 early in the fourth set, a deficit which grew to five at 10-5. That's when the Wildcats went on a furious rally to climb right back into the set and tie it at 11-11. The run was halted at 6-1, but after the teams traded points, UK picked it up again. The Wildcats took their first lead at 14-13 on a Bergren service ace, and Workman extended the lead to 15-13 with a kill. Auburn fought back to tie the set at 15-15, but a Napper ace and an AU error gave Kentucky its two-point lead back at 19-17. O'Conner's 16th kill of the match gave the Wildcats a 22-19 lead, and while the Tigers came back to tie the set at 23-23, but back-to-back AU errors gave the Wildcats the hard-fought win.
UK hit .325 in the fourth set with 16 kills, led by O'Conner with four. Four players had three kills, including Workman who added three digs. Napper had six of Kentucky's 17 digs while Franklin had the Wildcats' lone block. Auburn hit .308 with 16 kills and three blocks in the final set.
Kentucky dropped the second set, 25-20. The Wildcats again opened with a 4-2 lead in the second set, led by a pair of kills by Thomasson and Brown. UK kept a two-point lead at 6-4, but that's when the Tigers went on a 5-0 run for a 9-6 advantage. Kentucky never let the deficit grow to more than three points though, and quickly answered to get to within one at 10-9 on a Workman kill. Auburn's lead stretched to three again at 14-11, but back-to-back O'Conner kills quickly made it 14-13. The Wildcats could not get any closer though, and Auburn took its first lead of more than three points at 20-16. The Tigers closed the set on a 7-4 run for a 25-20 win.
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