Cats Shut Down Arkansas in Regular-Season Finale
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Kentucky middle blockers Nicole Britenriker (Cincinnati, Ohio) and Queen Nzenwa (Baltimore, Md.) combined for 30 kills and 15 blocks Sunday as the Wildcats held off Arkansas 3-2 (30-27, 20-30, 30-21, 23-30, 16-14) in Barnhill Arena in the final regular-season match for the Wildcats.
The Wildcats (22-9, 13-7 Southeastern Conference) close the regular season with 22 wins for the first time since the 1993 campaign.
“Arkansas is a very talented team and this is a very difficult place to play,” UK head coach Craig Skinner said. “I’m proud of how tough our kids were in game five in order to be able to beat them on the road.”
Sophomore setter Sarah Rumely (New Palestine, Ind.) turned in her 12th double-double of the season with a career-high 12 kills on .625 hitting with 52 assists and four blocks. Sophomore libero BriAnne Sauer (Louisville, Ky.) led the defensive effort with a career-high 29 digs.
Kentucky recorded 17 team blocks in the match and out-hit Arkansas .194-.181.
Kentucky opened to a 6-3 advantage to begin game one as freshman Brooke Bartek (Lincoln, Neb.) served an ace to break a 3-3 tie and then Nzenwa and Rapp followed with back-to-back blocks. Arkansas scored two in a row to come within one, 6-5, before a Rapp kill stopped the Lady ‘Backs scoring streak. Britenriker and Bartek recorded consecutive kills to extend UK’s advantage to 10-7. An ace by Britenriker capped off a 4-1 run by the Wildcats that gave them a 12-8 lead. A service error by Rumely and back-to-back Arkansas kills brought the Lady ‘Backs within one, 13-12, before Nzenwa drilled a kill down the middle. Arkansas knotted the score at 15-all, but a sharp kill by Britenriker silenced the rally to put UK back in front 16-15. After two more ties, the Lady ‘Backs ran off three points in a row to go up 21-18 and force a timeout by the Cats.
Two consecutive Arkansas errors out of the break sparked a 3-0 Kentucky run that was capped off by a block from Nzenwa and Rumely on the right side to tie the score at 21-21. Nzenwa crushed a free ball for a kill to end a long attack and then teamed with Rapp on the right side for a block to put the Wildcats up 24-22 and force an Arkansas timeout. Rumely had an ace out of the timeout to give the Cats a three-point, 25-22, advantage. The Lady ‘Backs began cutting into the UK lead, coming within one at 27-26. UK scored two in a row to reach game point after a put-down by Rumely on second contact. A kill by Britenriker on the slide gave UK a 30-27 game-one win.
Kentucky broke to a 3-1 lead to open game two that included an ace from Rumely. The Lady ‘Backs rallied to knot the score at 4-4 before freshman Blaire Hiler (New Washington, Ohio) registered back-to-back kills to put UK ahead 6-4. Arkansas hung tough and rallied from a 7-5 deficit with five consecutive points to go ahead 10-7 and force Skinner to use a timeout. Bartek posted a kill off the block out of the timeout to stop the scoring streak, but the Lady ‘Backs built their advantage back out to four, 12-8.
Nzenwa and Britenriker recorded back-to-back kills to cut UK’s deficit to two, 12-10. With Kentucky trailing 15-12, Rapp notched a kill, but Arkansas capitalized off two consecutive UK attack errors to go up 17-13 and cause timeout by the Wildcats. Out of the timeout, Rapp had a kill before the Lady ‘Backs committed back-to-back errors to bring Kentucky within one, 17-16. Arkansas then used an 8-0 run to go up by nine, 25-16. Rumely stopped the streak with a kill to spark a 3-1 run by the Wildcats that brought them within seven, 26-19. That would be as close as the Cats would come, however, in the 30-20 game-two loss. Kentucky hit just .045 in the second frame.
UK scored the first four points of game three and opened the frame on a 11-3 tear that forced Arkansas coach Chris Poole to burn an early timeout. After the Lady ‘Backs whittled their deficit down to six, 12-6, Rumely and Rapp recorded consecutive kills to spark a 4-0 run by the Wildcats that put UK ahead 16-6. Arkansas then scored three points in a row to come within seven, 16-9, before a Rumely kill silenced the rally.
The Cats extended their advantage to nine, 20-11, on a block solo by Mendoza. A resounding kill by Britenriker on the slide moved UK ahead 25-13, but Arkansas scored four consecutive points to come within eight, 25-17, and force a UK timeout. A kill by Britenriker and a block on the right side by Bartek and Nzenwa put the Cats in front 27-14, but the Lady ‘Backs kept clawing away at their deficit. A put-down by Bartek on the angle gave UK a 30-21 game-three win.
Arkansas opened to a 6-2 lead to open the fourth game before a kill by Rapp on the right side stopped the streak. The Lady ‘Backs extended their advantage to 9-5, but from there the Wildcats used a 3-0 run, capped off by a block by Bartek and Nzenwa, to cut within one at 9-8. Trailing 12-8, Kentucky battled back with a pair of points that included a Bartek ace, to cut its deficit to two, 12-10.
After the Lady ‘Backs built their lead back to four, 15-11, the Cats scored three in a row – including a Rapp ace – to cut within one, 15-14. Down 17-14, Kentucky knotted the score at 17-all after consecutive put-downs by Rumely and Britenriker. Strong Arkansas blocking allowed the Lady ‘Backs to regain their lead at 20-17 heading into a UK timeout. Arkansas used a 3-1 run out of the break to go up 23-18 and force another UK timeout for the Cats to regroup. With Kentucky trailing 23-19, the Wildcats scored three in a row to cut within 23-21, but Arkansas kept rolling to a 25-21 lead and took the game 30-23.
Kentucky scored the first two points of game five, before the Lady ‘Backs rallied with four in a row to go up 4-2. With the Wildcats trailing 5-3, Mendoza posted a kill to cut the deficit to one before Arkansas went back in front 6-4. Rapp and Rumely then notched back-to-back put-downs to tie the score at 6. Mendoza then recorded a kill on the outside to give UK back the lead at 7-6 heading into an Arkansas timeout. An attack error by the Lady ‘Backs put the Cats ahead 8-6 as the two teams switched sides.
Back-to-back Arkansas kills knotted the score at 8-all. After another tie at 9-9, the Lady Backs went up 10-9 after a net violation call against Kentucky. With the Cats trailing 11-10, Bartek posted a kill off the block on the outside, and Nzenwa and Rapp teamed for a kill on the next play to put UK ahead 12-11 heading into a timeout. Nzenwa drilled a kill through the middle to put the Cats ahead 13-12, but the Lady ‘Backs again tied the score. A soft-touch kill by Nzenwa brought UK to match point at 14-13 but again Arkansas knotted the tally. A block on the right side by Britenriker and Rumely gave UK the 16-14 win.
Kentucky will now await the NCAA Tournament selection show, to be held at 8 p.m. EST on Sunday, Nov. 25, to learn of its postseason fate. The selection show will air live on ESPNU.
The Wildcats, who are looking to make their ninth NCAA appearance in school history, have appeared in back-to-back NCAA Tournaments for the first time since the 1992-93 campaigns.
Complete information regarding Kentucky’s postseason play will be available at ukathletics.com.