UK volleyball fell to No. 1 Penn State 3-0 (25-18, 25-21, 25-12) in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament at Mackey Arena in West Lafayette, In.
“The margin for error is pretty small when you get to this point in the tournament,” said UK head coach Craig Skinner.
The Cats’ attack struggled in the face of a stingy Nittany Lions defense. UK hit for only .040 with 29 kills alongside 25 errors, headed by senior Ashley Frazier’s seven kills and 11 errors on .137 hitting.
Junior Whitney Billings led the Cats with eight kills on .292 hitting and nine digs.
The moment of the match came in set two, when the Cats fell behind 20-16 and were out of timeouts in the set.
UK rattled off five of the next seven points to fight back to a one point disadvantage and the only Penn State timeout of the match at 22-21.
Sophomore Lauren O’Connor was forced into an error to give Penn State a two point advantage, followed by a Nittany Lions service ace to sever the Cats momentum. Frazier then erred on set point, giving Penn State the 25-21 win.
“It’s hard to give up runs and play catch up and we did at the end of game one,” Skinner said. “Then, in game two, we made a couple runs and got it to 21-20 and had a couple chances to score points. You really need to execute and take advantage of those opportunities. You really need to get one of those first two games to go in the locker room with a little bit of momentum. But, Penn State, give a lot of credit to them for how they played the match tonight.”
The Cats began the match focused and confident, as evidenced by the lead UK controlled for the duration of the first set.
The lead reached as large as four, and was at 17-15 after a kill by senior Christine Hartman, but, as was the case throughout the match, Penn State made the key run; earning 10 of the last 11 points to close out the Cats 25-18.
In set three, Penn State’s frontline swarmed UK around the net.
The Nittany Lions had 13 kills on a tidy .565 hitting with no hitting errors in the set.
On the other hand, the Cats hit only .091 with 11 and eight errors. After a short 3-0 run punctuated by two Billings kills that cut the Penn State lead to 10-8, UK failed to claw any closer.
Penn State will face No. 8 Minnesota Saturday at 4 p.m. for the chance to play in the Final Four.
UK closes the season at 22-11 (14-6 SEC) with a second consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16.