Nov. 27, 2013
LEXINGTON, Ky. - The 17th-ranked Kentucky volleyball team rallied from a 2-0 deficit to force a decisive fifth frame with sixth-ranked Florida, but fell just shy of the upset in a 3-2 (25-11, 28-26, 22-25, 18-25, 15-10) loss in the regular season finale in front of 1,877 fans in Memorial Coliseum. More than 200 fans participated in the Big Blue Triathlon that saw fans participate in three UK events today including the nightcap of volleyball.
With the loss Kentucky concludes regular season action at 21-8 overall and 13-5 in Southeastern Conference action. Florida improves to 27-3 overall and 16-2 in league play. Kentucky will now await its fate for a ninth-consecutive bid into the NCAA Tournament. The selection show airs on ESPNU on Sunday at 9:30 p.m. ET.
Senior Whitney Billings led the Wildcats with 20 kills and added 18 digs. Freshman Anni Thomasson totaled 16 kills and picked up nine scoops. Sophomore setter Morgan Bergren also registered a double-double with 50 assists and a career-high 13 digs. Junior libero Jackie Napper had 20 digs to lead the way defensively.
"I'll coach the team that played the last three and a half sets any day of the week," UK head coach Craig Skinner said. "The team that played the first set, I have a big problem with. I feel a lot better about what we did as the match progressed. Between now and the next time we practice, we have to learn what it feels like to play like we did, especially in sets three and four. Some good individual performances by Whitney and Zan, played very competitive all night. If those two seniors play like that, we'll follow them anywhere. Hats off to Florida for weathering the storm we threw at them in the last three sets and finding a way to win."
The Gators scored the first three points of the decisive fifth frame to take an early lead before a service error gave the Blue and White its first tally. The lead stretched to 5-2 in favor of the visitors. Florida then took an 8-4 lead into the switching of sides. Florida continued to push and extended the lead to five at 13-8 as UK chose to use its final timeout. Back-to-back kills from Billings allowed Kentucky to get within three at 13-10 and Florida opted to take a timeout. Following the timeout the Gators earned match point with a kill and then claimed the match on a service ace.
Florida totaled nine kills on a .304 hitting percentage compared to just five and a .105 clip for Kentucky. Billings had three kills in the final stanza to lead UK, while Bergren contributed six digs.
Senior Alexandra Morgan contributed 11 kills on a team-high .478 hitting percentage with a pair of blocks. Junior Lauren O'Conner notched five kills and a squad-best three blocks. Freshman Kelsey Wolf contributed five digs.
Trailing 2-0 in the match, Billings began the scoring in the third set with a cross-court kill. UK's defense then forced the Gators into a hitting error and O'Conner followed with an ace to grab the first multi-point lead for Kentucky to open a set in the match. An overpass converted into a kill by Bergren lifted UK to a 7-4 lead. But, the lead would not last for long as Florida went on a 6-1 run to take a 10-8 advantage. A string of points from O'Conner which included two kills and a solo block gave UK a 13-11 lead. From there the squads would trade points until consecutive kills from Bergren and Thomasson lifted the home team to a 19-17 lead deep into the stanza. Florida opted for a timeout.
Following the timeout, Florida's errant attack and an ace from Morgan extended Kentucky's lead to a 21-17 margin and Florida chose to use its final timeout. Florida was able to utilize the break and score two-straight to pull back to within two at 21-19 before Bergren called her own number for a kill to the corner. Billings gave the Wildcats set point with a kill to the back row, but the Gators scored two-straight to claw back to within two at 24-22 prompting a timeout from the home team. Following the timeout, Billings came up with her 12th kill of the night to extend the match.
Kentucky posted 15 kills in the stanza on a .205 clip. Billings and Thomasson both registered four, while Napper led the defensive effort with six scoops. Florida hit just .194 in the set and managed just 12 kills while also committing five hitting errors.
Florida opened the fourth frame by scoring the first two points before a Florida service error put a stop to the rally. UK tied the score at two apiece and a back-and-forth battle began yet again. The visitors utilized a 4-0 run to reclaim a multi-point advantage at 8-4. A kill from Thomasson snapped the run instead igniting a string of points for Kentucky as the home team clawed back and tied things yet again this time at eight.
The Gators reclaimed a two-point edge at 11-9 following a service ace for the visitors. UK eventually climbed back into the match on Thomasson's 14th kill of the night making the score 13 all. Once again the teams would swap points until after an extended rally Billings tooled the block and Morgan followed with a slide attack for a two-point Wildcat lead at 17-15. Kentucky's defense then forced a shot wide and UK went head by three with the Gators choosing to use their final timeout. Out of the break, the run continued for Kentucky with a solo rejection by Thomasson followed by an illegal attack charged to the Gators. A kill from Bergren made it a 6-0 run for the Blue and White before the Gators finally squashed the string of points with a kill. The 17th kill of the night from Billings gave UK set point and Morgan lifted UK to a 25-18 win with her 10th hammer of the night to force a decisive fifth frame.
Kentucky charted 13 kills on a .343 hitting clip and also logged four blocks in the frame. Billings had five hammers on .714 hitting and added a squad-high seven digs. O'Conner led the way at the net with a pair of blocks. Florida totaled 13 kills on a mere .131 clip and was forced into seven hitting errors.
Thomasson started the match with a kill from the back row to give UK an early 1-0 lead, but the Gators responded by scoring the next three points. O'Conner stopped the run with a kill to the back row and began a 3-0 run in favor of the Cats. The visitors followed with a 3-0 run of their own to reclaim the lead. Florida eventually stretched the lead to 13-8 midway through the frame and the Blue and White opted for a timeout. An 8-0 run midway through the frame stretched the Gators' lead to 21-9 before Tronick's kill finally broke the string. The margin would be enough for Florida as the first set went to the visitors by a 25-11 score.
Florida charted 14 kills on .423 hitting compared to just eight on a .160 clip by the Cats. Thomasson had four kills in the frame for UK, while Billings and Napper both accounted for four digs apiece.
The Gators jumped out to a 3-1 lead to begin the third frame before a kill from Billings following an extended rally stopped the early stretch. A kill from Thomasson brought the home team back to a tied score at four apiece. From there a back-and-forth battle ensued until UK shook loose for two-straight to grab a 15-13 lead forcing the Gators into a timeout. The Blue and White forced a Florida hitting error and then Bergren notched an ace. Florida would fight back to knot the score at 16 all, but Billings gave UK the lead right back with her sixth kill of the stanza.
Florida answered with a 2-0 run to grab an 18-17 advantage, but Morgan went cross court to once again tie the score this time at 18. Thomasson then came up with a big solo rejection to again lift the Wildcats to a lead. Morgan again went cross court and then the UK defense forced an errant attack to give the Blue and White a 21-19 lead, forcing Florida to use its final timeout. Kentucky got set point with another Billings kill, but Florida came up with a kill of its own to save set point at 24-23. Kentucky opted to use a timeout. Following the timeout the Gators served up an ace and then took set point on a block. UK chose to use its final timeout. Thomasson came up with the set-saving kill to force extended play. A terrific serve by Napper forced the Gators out of system and Billings came up with a kill in transition to earn set point before the Gators again prolonged the frame. Consecutive aces by the Gators lifted the visitors to a 2-0 lead into the break.
Kentucky had 19 kills in the frame on a .289 hitting clip. Billings had eight and Morgan and Thomasson both had four. Florida totaled 16 hammers on .353 hitting and benefited from six UK attack errors and a pair of service errors.
Kentucky's Memorial Coliseum will play host to the NCAA Regionals Dec. 13-14. The regional will get underway Dec. 13, with semifinal contests at 5 and 7 p.m. ET, while the regional final will commence Dec. 14 at 4 p.m. 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. Tickets for the event are available now at UKathletics.com/tickets.
Visit UKathletics.com for the most up-to-date information on the Kentucky volleyball team and all 22 varsity sports. For additional info on the volleyball team like Kentucky Volleyball on Facebook or follow the team on Twitter at @KentuckyVB.