Defense Leads UK to Hard-Fought Sweep in NCAA Opener

Dec. 5, 2014

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LEXINGTON, Ky. -- The No. 13 Kentucky volleyball team opened the 2014 NCAA Tournament with a hard-fought 3-0 (25-20, 28-26, 25-19) win over Oakland Friday night in Memorial Coliseum.

The Wildcats (27-5) withstood a gritty effort by the Golden Grizzlies (22-10) to win a back-and-forth match that featured 31 ties and 16 lead changes in the first two sets. Fourteen kills by senior Lauren O'Conner and 22 digs by fellow senior Jackie Napper, both match-highs, helped UK halt OU's 10 match winning streak.

"I was pleased with our effort tonight," UK head coach Craig Skinner said. "I have to give a lot of credit to Oakland on their season and how they came out in the first set and really battled us and made plays. Before the match we talked about Oakland making plays and respect that and execute on our end.

"Defensively, holding them to .107 [hitting] was a big key, and keeping our attack errors really low was very important.  As seniors, Lauren O'Conner and Jackie Napper really led us tonight in their respective responsibilities. Which is what you want and need out of your senior group."

With the win, Kentucky advances to the NCAA Tournament Second Round for the fourth consecutive year. The Wildcats will face Ohio State Saturday at 7 p.m. ET in Memorial Coliseum, with the winner advancing to the NCAA Regional in Louisville, Dec. 12-13.

UK out-blocked OU 11-6, led by freshman Kaz Brown who had four, while five more Wildcats had at least two rejections. Along with Napper, the defensive effort was led by junior Morgan Bergren's 10 digs.

Kentucky hit .262 with 46 kills and held Oakland to 39 kills on .107 hitting. OU owned a 61-54 edge in digs. The 61 digs by the Golden Grizzlies was the most by a UK opponent in a three-set match this season.

Along with her 10 digs, Bergren added 33 assists for her eighth double-double of the season. The junior setter also had four kills on .400 hitting with two block assists.

Brown added a career-high 10 kills on .600 hitting, while sophomore Anni Thomasson had three blocks and eight digs to go along with eight kills.

O'Conner and junior Sara Schwarzwalder each had three blocks, while O'Conner added three digs and two service aces and Schwarzwalder posted four kills on .667 hitting. Junior Shelby Workman tallied six digs with three kills and junior Kayla Tronick had two blocks.

The Wildcats were caught in a back-and-forth battle in the first set, but closed the frame on a 10-4 run to claim a 25-20 win. Franklin and O'Conner teamed up for a block for the match's first point, and a kill by Brown gave UK a 3-1 lead. Oakland responded to tie the set at 4-4, the first of 13 ties in the set. The first of six lead changes came when the Golden Grizzlies gained an 8-7 advantage. Kentucky fell behind by two at 12-10 but clawed back to take a 14-13 lead on a Brown kill. The lead did not hold, but trailing 16-15, UK again answered with four in a row, thanks to two Thomasson kills, to take a 19-16 lead. Thanks to the 10-4 run to end the set, the three-point lead was enough for Kentucky to close out a 25-20 win.

The second set was as close as the first, with a total of 18 ties and 10 lead changes before UK claimed a 28-26 win. After Oakland claimed a 3-1 lead, the Wildcats fought back to take the advantage, but their 10-9 lead would be its last until 22-21. The Golden Grizzlies held the upper hand in the middle of the set, holding a lead of as many as three at 19-16. It was then that the Wildcats started to make their push to a second-set win, scoring six of the next eight.

An O'Conner kill tied the set at 21-21 before an OU error put UK ahead for the first time since it led 10-9. The Golden Grizzlies tied the set again, before UK claimed a 23-22 advantage. Oakland answered with the next two points to lead 24-23, but the Wildcats fought off the first set point, thanks to a kill by O'Conner. The Golden Grizzlies had their second set point at 25-24, but an attack error tied it up again. O'Conner followed with a service ace, but then it was Oakland's turn to tie the set and stave off set point. Tied at 26-26, the Wildcats got a kill from Brown before a solo block from Schwarzwalder for a 28-26 win.

A 4-0 run helped the Wildcats jump out to a 7-3 lead in the third set. Thomasson had a solo block and Brown and Tronick teamed up for a rejection to fuel the UK run. An Oakland attack error helped Kentucky extend its lead to five at 10-5 before an O'Conner kill gave UK a 12-6 cushion. The two teams went back-and-forth, but the Wildcats never let the Golden Grizzlies get closer than five points. Back-to-back OU attack errors gave UK a 19-11 lead, which it held until 22-14. Oakland responded with a 4-0 run, but a Napper kill halted the run to give the Wildcats a 23-18 edge. Back-to-back errors by Oakland put the end to the OU run and send the Wildcats to the NCAA Tournament's second round.

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