|Kentucky 3, Ohio State 1
|Florida 3, College of Charleston 0
Kentcuky Downs Ohio State
LEXINGTON, Ky. - History was made on the Memorial Coliseum floor Saturday night as the Kentucky volleyball team secured a spot in the Sweet 16 for the second-straight season behind a 3-1 (18-25, 26-24, 25-15, 25-18) win over Ohio State. For the first time since the 1987-88 seasons the Blue and White advanced to the round of 16 in consecutive years, also marking the first time in the Craig Skinnerera UK has achieved that feat following tonight's win.
After saving successive set points in the second frame, UK closed the frame on a 4-0 run to take the stanza by a 26-24 score and steal the momentum. It was all the more 1,583 fans would need to help propel the Cats to their historic victory.
"Well first of all, that crowd was pretty good," Skinner said. "Mostly just because of their energy, but they got behind this team and faithful, and understood when we needed them. Got up and made things happen for us, and our team responded to it."
With the win, Kentucky advances to take on the No. 1 seed Penn State Nittany Lions on Friday, Dec. 7 at 5 p.m. ET in West Lafayette, Ind., on the campus of Purdue University. It will mark the second-straight season UK has advanced to take on the No. 1 seed in the tournament.
"Give a lot of credit to Ohio State," Skinner said. "Heck of a team, and they brought it to us in game one. We had a great game plan and it didn't work in game one, but we stuck with it and executed it as the match went on. Our serving and blocking got involved. Then people stepped up. Some great defensive plays by (Stephanie) Klefot, great decisions by our setter (Christine Hartmann) and our attackers put the ball away when we needed them."
The win improves Kentucky's record to 22-10 on the season, while Ohio State concludes the year owning a 23-11 mark.
Kentucky's defensive prowess proved the difference maker in the three set victories for the Cats. Ohio State utilized 20 kills on a blistering .447 hitting percentage to earn an opening frame 25-18 score. However, UK would limit the Buckeyes to no more than 14 kills and no better hitting clip than .171 the rest of the match.
Senior libero Stephanie Klefot led the way with a match-high 18 digs. Klefot also contributed to the offensive effort with spectacular serving that resulted in a career-high five service aces in the win. Junior Jessi Greenberg logged seven digs and sophomore Jackie Napperadded six in the winning effort.
Junior Whitney Billings posted her 17th double-double effort of the year with 10 kills and 12 digs. She also added a trio of blocks and three aces. Billings was joined in double-figures in the kills' column by 16 hammers from sophomore Lauren O'Conner who laced the kills on a .381 hitting clip. Junior Alexandra Morganalso had 10 kills on a .381 hitting percentage and added a match-high seven blocks in the defensive effort.
Senior Christine Hartmanndirected the Cats to 52 kills on .278 hitting including firing for 18 on a .333 percentage in the deciding fourth set. Hartmann dished out 42 assists, added six digs, five kills of her own and four blocks.
Freshman Kayla Tronick contributed with seven kills and a pair of blocks. Senior Ashley Frazierhad four kills and four digs in the winning cause.
Ohio State collected the opening set with a 25-18 win behind eight kills from junior Kaitlyn Leary as the Buckeyes hit .447 in the stanza, while holding Kentucky to just .222 on its swings. The Buckeyes recorded 20 kills in the set, opposed by 11 for UK.
In the second frame, Kentucky turned the match around, saving two set points and closing out the frame with a 4-0 run to clinch the set. The Wildcats rallied to take the set 26-24 in a stanza that saw UK and OSU exchange the lead three different times, while the score was tied on eight occasions. UK was on fire from the service stripe, recording five aces in the frame. The teams would go to the locker room tied at 1-1.
Kentucky would carry the momentum into the third set, controlling the run of play from start to finish, taking a wire-to-wire 25-15 decision. The win gave Kentucky the 2-1 lead in the match. In the third set, UK hit .357, while holding the Buckeye attack to a abysmal .000 hitting percentage in the frame. The Wildcats recorded 13 kills in the third stanza, as UK would force the OSU offense into eight errors.
UK would close out the match in the fourth set, taking the frame 25-18 to solidify its spot in the 2012 NCAA Volleyball Championship Sweet 16. The Wildcats saw an eight-point lead trimmed to five at 17-12, but Kentucky's offense was too much, as UK hit .333 in the last frame including kills from five different players en route to the win. Visit UKathletics.com for the most up-to-date information on the UK volleyball team. For additional coverage of the volleyball squad be sure and check out CatScratchesBlog.com/volleyball.
Florida Advances Past College of Charleston
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The Florida volleyball team could not have drawn it up much better.
The Gators took the floor at the O'Connell Center on Friday night in the first round of the NCAA Tournament and blew past Tulsa in three sets. They were back Saturday night, this time hosting College of Charleston with a berth in the Sweet 16 on the line.
The Gators walked off the court a little more than an hour later with a sweet taste in their mouth.
Once again, Florida won in three sets, cruising past the Cougars 25-20, 25-16, 25-14.
Florida won both matches in very businesslike fashion. The Gators played physical up front. They worked efficiently on offense. Their passing was crisp. They dove for balls and formed walls at the net.
They played like a team determined to hang around this postseason party as long as possible.
Tangerine Wiggs was one of three Florida seniors to play their final match at the O'Dome on Saturday. Wiggs and fellow seniors Betsy Smith and Sundai Weston said goodbye to the home fans the way they envisioned: with a win.
Still, Wiggs showed little interest in waxing poetic or getting overly sentimental when asked about her final home match.
After all, this is the NCAA Tournament.
"It feels great. It was something that was on my mind in the beginning [of the week],'' Wiggs confessed. "At the same time, we have very big goals for this team. By no means did we want this to be our last game we played.
"Our main goal is much farther down the road."
The next stop along that road makes a stop at the Austin Regional on Friday night when the Gators face host Texas, the tournament's No. 3 overall seed and a 3-1 winner over Texas A&M on Saturday.
The Gators and Longhorns squared off earlier this season at the Nike Big Four Class on Penn State's campus. Texas swept a tightly contested match.
That was more than three months ago and both teams have new looks. The Gators' makeover might be the more drastic, however.
The first meeting with Texas was just Florida's fourth match of the season and came only two weeks after the Gators lost outside hitter Noami Santos-Lamb for the season to a knee injury.
The Gators were still in adjust mode, trying to figure out what they had in freshman Ziva Recek and other young players. They soon learned Recek had a powerful swing that helped her earn SEC Freshman of the Year honors.
"We had no idea that she had that in her,'' Wise said. "We were making it up on the fly. I think right now we have a much better idea of who we are."
The Gators' identity was out in the open Saturday night against College of Charleston for everyone to see.
The Cougars hung tough in the first set for a while, but the Gators' size and execution eventually took over the match.
"I give them a lot of credit for what they did,'' said College of Charleston coach Jason Kepner. "Their execution didn't give us much of a chance to do what we like to do."
Junior Chloe Mann paced the Gators with a team-high 10 kills and a .615 hitting percentage. She also added four blocks, often teaming with Wiggs (game-high seven blocks) to form an imposing tandem at the net whenever the Cougars tried to fire away.
Shortly after taking a victory lap around the court to slap the hands of fans, Mann reflected on the way the Gators opened the tournament.
Florida swept its first two NCAA Tournament matches for the first time in three years, relying heavily on setter Taylor Brauneis to direct the way. Brauneis had 66 assists in the two wins.
"I'd say the way we excelled was definitely due to our amazing passing and, even on defense, our back row players were able to get the ball in good positions for Taylor to distribute really evenly,'' Mann said. "If we can continue to stay focused throughout the whole stretch of the tournament, that's really going to be what helps us."
Wise walked off the court smiling as the Gators advanced to the Sweet 16 for the eighth consecutive season. She had ample reasons.
There was the game plan associate head coach Dave Boos drew up. There was pinpoint execution. There was high defensive IQ the Gators relied on against the offensive-minded Cougars.
There is also the way this team goes about its business. Even a trip to Texas and a match on the Longhorns' home court doesn't seem nearly as scary as three months ago.
"It will be a huge challenge for us,'' Wise said. "I think this team -- they're just so steady -- I don't think they will get overwhelmed. We're certainly not the favorite. Texas is an incredibly physical team. They play so high above the net. That is what makes them so dangerous.
"We take that experience [of facing Texas earlier] but know the score is zero-zero when we walk on that floor -- their floor."
The Gators walked off their floor for the final time Saturday night a winner. They can check their first goal of the NCAA Tournament off the list.