Alabama Serves Kentucky 3-2 Loss
Alabama utilized a powerful serving game Sunday afternoon and came through in the clutch to clinch a 3-2 (25-30, 30-24, 30-27, 27-30, 15-10) thriller from Kentucky in Memorial Coliseum. The Wildcats drop to 10-3 overall and 1-1 in the Southeastern Conference with the loss. Alabama, which handed Kentucky just its third home-court loss in the past two seasons, improves to 5-6 on the year and 2-0 in SEC play.
Four Kentucky players registered double-digit kills for the third consecutive match, led by senior middle blocker Nicole Britenriker’s team-high 17. Britenriker also added 15 digs for her team-leading eighth double-double of the season and her fourth in as many games. The Cincinnati native was one of three UK players to tally double-doubles in the match. Freshman right-side hitter Lauren Rapp, the reigning SEC Freshman of the Week, recorded a career-high 14 kills in the match, topping her previous high of 13 set on Friday against Mississippi State. Rapp’s 14 kills came on .345 hitting with a career-best 12 digs and four blocks, as the rookie notched her first career double-double.
Junior middle blocker Queen Nzenwa also added 14 kills to complement a match-high six blocks, while sophomore outside hitter Brooke Bartek added 12 kills. Sophomore setter Sarah Rumely dished out a season-high 62 assists to complement 11 digs for a double-dip. Junior libero Alisa Pierce led the UK defensive effort with 19 digs.
Serving proved costly for the Wildcats, as Alabama recorded 11 aces, while Kentucky had 15 service errors in the match.
“We didn’t execute the serve and passing game like we needed to in order to beat a good team like Alabama,” said UK head coach Craig Skinner. “Statistically, we played well enough to win, but Alabama just did a better job with the serving part of the match and that was the difference today.”
The Wildcats scored the first four points of the opening game and opened to a 9-4 advantage after a kill by Bartek on the angle. With Kentucky leading 9-6, the Cats used a 5-0 run that included a pair of kills by Bartek to put UK ahead 14-6. The Crimson Tide scored four of the game’s next five points before a kill by Rapp ended the Alabama scoring streak with the Cats ahead 16-10. Trailing 17-10, Alabama used a 5-1 run to come within three, 18-15, and force Skinner to burn a timeout.
Out of the break, the Tide closed the gap to tie the score at 20-all on an attack error by Britenriker. After an Alabama service error put Kentucky back in front, Bartek saved a ball from hitting the floor and Rumely followed with a crafty play on second contact that found the floor for a kill and put the Wildcats ahead 22-20. Britenriker and Rumely each had aces in helping UK extend its advantage to 25-21. The Tide came as close as two, 27-25, but Mendoza registered a kill and Rapp served an ace to bring the Cats to game point at 29-25 before a block by Britenriker and Rumely closed out the 30-25 game-one win. Bartek led UK in the opening frame with six kills on .667 hitting.
The two teams battled evenly to begin the second game as there were seven early ties before Alabama went in front 12-10. After a kill by Nzenwa stopped the Tide’s scoring streak, Alabama ran off three consecutive points to take a 15-11 lead and force Skinner to use a timeout. The Tide kept rolling, using a 5-0 run that included three service aces from Mary Catherine Aune to stake to a 21-13 advantage.
With Kentucky trailing 22-15, Bartek registered back-to-back kills to bring the Cats within five, 22-17. After an Alabama kill, the Wildcats used a 5-0 run that included a pair of kills by Nzenwa and an ace from Rumely. That streak brought UK to within one down, 23-22, and forced UA Coach Judy Green to call a timeout. The Crimson Tide thrived out of the break, scoring six consecutive points to extend their advantage to 28-22 en route to a 30-24 victory.
Alabama broke a 6-all tie early in game three with five consecutive points that put the Tide ahead 11-6 and caused an early UK timeout. With the Wildcats trailing 15-9, Britenriker posted kills on four of the next five plays to bring Kentucky within three, 16-13. The Cats kept battling and used three consecutive points to tie the score at 19-all on an ace by Pierce. The two teams fought closely until Alabama used a 3-0 run to widen its lead to 27-22 before a kill before a pair of kills by Britenriker ended the rally. Down 28-24, Kentucky scored three straight, capped off by a kill from Bartek, to come as close as one 28-27, before Alabama took the 30-27 game-three win.
The Tide was in command for much of the fourth game, as Alabama broke to a 13-8 advantage in that frame after a kill by Brooks Webster. Kentucky rallied to tie the score at 14-14 after back-to-back kills by Rapp, but the Crimson Tide pushed their lead to 21-17. Three consecutive Alabama errors allowed Kentucky to knot the score at 22-all. The Wildcats wouldn’t go away, however, as Kentucky broke a 26-26 tie with a kill by Rapp. She followed with an ace on the next play and the Wildcats were able to rally for a 30-27 win.
The teams fought evenly to start game five, but back-to-back Kentucky attack errors gave Alabama a 6-3 advantage heading into a UK timeout. Out of the break, the Wildcats ran off four consecutive points, including a kill by Mendoza on the outside to go in front 7-6. Alabama, however, scored four consecutive points and the Cats weren’t able to catch up, falling 15-10.
Kentucky returns to action Friday when it travels to Athens, Ga., to take on the Georgia Bulldogs. Opening serve is set for 7 p.m. in the Ramsey Center.