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By Nick Gray | @KYKernelGray
UK volleyball advanced to the Round of 16 of the NCAA Tournament with a 3-1 victory against Ohio State (18-25, 26-24, 25-15, 25-18) Saturday night in Memorial Coliseum.
Junior Whitney Billings posted a double-double with 10 kills and 12 digs including the final four points in a second set comeback for UK. Sophomore Lauren O’Connor led the Cats with 16 kills while junior Alexandra Morgan contributed 10 kills. Senior Christine Hartmann dished out 42 assists.
“I think it was a big win for us. The first game we came out a little shaky but after that we figured out what they were doing and how they were running things so we adjusted in the last three games,” UK coach Craig Skinner said.
The Cats struggled in the first set after inching to a 12-11 lead, allowing six straight points to give Ohio State the 17-12 lead the Buckeyes never relinquished. Ohio State hit for .447 with 20 kills and only three errors while UK hit .222 with only 11 kills.
The Cats again held a lead into the middle portion of the second set at 16-10, but the Buckeyes went on an 8-2 run to tie the set at 18. The score was 20-20 when Ohio State ran off three straight points and held set point at 24-22 when Billings took the game over. Billings hit for a kill and Morgan and freshman Sara Schwarzwalder combined for a block to tie the game. Billings then served for two aces to claim the set for UK at 26-24.
“This team’s got a lot of toughness. They stood up when the pressure was against them and executed. That’s a sign of senior leadership,” Skinner said. “That’s a sign of composure. That’s a sign of a team that trusts each other and works for each other.”
Coming out of the break, The Cats’ defense showed signs of the dominant performance against East Tennessee State on Friday night, holding the Buckeyes to eight kills alongside eight errors for a hitting percentage of .000 for the set. UK hit for 13 kills but only slipped for three errors in the 25-15 third set win.
The Cats’ defense continued the effort in the fourth set, as Ohio State produced only 10 kills in a set UK never trailed in after a 6-0 run gave the Cats an 11-6 lead. Hartmann finished her final match at Memorial Coliseum with roles in UK’s final six points, with two kills and four assists including the final kill.
The Cats will face #1 Penn State Friday in the Regional Semifinals at Mackey Arena on the campus of Purdue University with the time to be announced.