Strong Defense Powers No. 21 Kentucky to Sweep Over Ole Miss
OXFORD, Miss. – In another excellent defensive outing, the No. 21 Kentucky Wildcat volleyball team earned its second sweep of the weekend, 3-0 (25-20, 25-18, 25-23), this time over the Ole Miss Rebels on Sunday afternoon at the Gillom Sports Center in Oxford, Miss.
The Wildcat team continued to hang its hat on outstanding defensive performance. Following a 14-block performance at Alabama on Friday, the Wildcats tallied 13 rejections in the three-set win. The team also had 37 digs in the outing, while holding Ole Miss to .117 hitting on the day. The .117 hitting percentage is the second lowest percentage the Wildcats have held an opponent to this season – UK held South Carolina to just .098 in their Southeastern Conference opener.
“Yet again, our defense was a big factor in the match,” 11th-season head coach Craig Skinner said on the match with Ole Miss. “It’s always difficult to win on the road, and they put a lot of pressure on us in the third set and our team responded. Darian [Mack] had a big day offensively and Brooke [Morgan] had a couple of big kills for us at the end. Kaz [Brown] had another 10-block night and it was a big reason we were successful today.”
“I was also proud of the way we served,” Skinner added. “We’ve made our serving a point of emphasis, and with six aces as a team, we’re excited to see it paying off.”
Kentucky advances to 15-6 on the season with a 7-1 in SEC play. Ole Miss is now 18-6 on the season while going 4-5 in the league. Kentucky resumes conference play on Friday, Oct. 30, when the Cats host Texas A&M in Memorial Coliseum.
Sophomore Kaz Brown paced Kentucky’s defense at the net with a match-high 10 blocks on the day while adding five kills. Freshman Brooke Morgan notched six rejections in the match with a team-second eight kills.
Sophomore Darian Mack paced the UK offense with a match-high 14 kills on 27 swings for .357 hitting. Junior outside Anni Thomasson added eight kills, seven digs, and two blocks. Senior setter Morgan Bergren guided the offense to .274 hitting with 34 assists, while tacking on two kills of her own and four blocks. Sophomore middle Emily Franklin had three kills, two aces, and two blocks.
Sophomore libero Ashley Dusek once again served as a defensive stalwart, registering 14 digs and adding three service aces in the match. Freshman Olivia Daily served as a defensive specialist for the second game in a row, providing six digs and an ace during the three sets.
The Rebels came out firing in the first, taking four of the first five points with the exception being a big block from Bergren and Brown. UK responded with a 4-0 run, highlighted by an ace from Bergren and a back row kill from Thomasson. The sides swapped points tying once at 7-7 until a 3-1 run capped by Morgan smashing a ball into the back row gave the Wildcats a 15-12 lead at the media timeout. The Rebels regrouped and forged a 3-0 run to tie the match at 15-15, forcing a Kentucky timeout. The Wildcats responded with a 4-1 spurt, prompting a timeout from the Rebels. The Wildcats grew the run to 8-2, forcing Ole Miss to use its final timeout at 22-17. An ace from Dusek set up set point at 24-19. The Rebels fended off set point once before a kill from Mack sealed it, 25-20.
Mack opened the second as she closed the first set with a big kill. Mack scored another before the Rebels scored two straight of their own. After tying at 3-3, the Wildcats opened a 4-1 run with two kills from Thomasson for the 8-4 lead. Another 3-1 run for Kentucky forced Ole Miss into its first timeout with the score 11-5 in the Wildcats’ favor. Following the break in action, Kentucky took four of the next six points with Brown registering her first two kills of the match during the spurt. The resilient Ole Miss squad fought back, taking five of the next six points, backing Kentucky into taking its first timeout. The Wildcats stormed out of the break taking nine of the final 15 points for a 25-18 win in the second. The Wildcats limited Ole Miss to .030 hitting through the first two sets.
There was nothing to separate the two sides early on in the third, as both sides swapped points to a 7-7 tie. UK made a 3-0 run before the Rebels made a 4-0 run of their own, prompting a Kentucky timeout, down 10-11. Dusek and Mack made incredible defensive moves in the match’s longest rally before Mack closed out the set with a kill for the 15-14 lead. Ole Miss took three straight before a kill from Thomasson, a block from Brown and Morgan and an ace from Franklin gave UK the 18-17 lead and forced an Ole Miss timeout. The match tied at 20-20, when the Rebels strung together back-to-back kills for a 20-22 lead and Kentucky took its final timeout. After trading points, Mack scored on consecutive kills to tie the match at 23 and forcing Ole Miss to use its final timeout. Morgan had the final two kills of the match to close it out, 25-23.
By the Numbers:
.117 – Kentucky held Ole Miss to .117 on the day, its second lowest opponent hitting percentage of the season.
14 – Sophomore Darian Mack led the offense with a match-best 14 kills.
13 – UK registered 13 team blocks, tied with match against No. 7 Illinois for the second most blocks by Kentucky in three sets this season.
10 – Sophomore Kaz Brown recorded 10 blocks in the three set match.
5 – The 3-0 win marks Kentucky’s fifth sweep in SEC play.
Kentucky’s Memorial Coliseum will play host to the NCAA Regionals Dec. 11-12. UK is one of four sites selected for the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight matchups with one team advancing to the Final Four in Omaha, Neb., from the Lexington Region. This marks the third time in five seasons Memorial Coliseum will host this premier volleyball event.