LEXINGTON, Ky. --Behind 12 kills from freshman Brooke Morgan and nine total blocks from sophomore Kaz Brown, the 21st-ranked Kentucky volleyball team fended off a late charge by visiting Alabama for a 3-1 (25-19, 27-25, 24-26, 25-20) win on Sunday in front of 1,621 fans in Memorial Coliseum. The win signified the 400th win for the program within the friendly confines of Memorial. Kentucky has now rattled off seven-straight victories.
"Alabama's an extremely athletic team, and there's a reason they were picked to finish second in the league," said 11th-year head coach Craig Skinner following Kentucky's fourth conference victory. "We really struggled to terminate the ball in the first couple of sets, so for us to have 19 in the fourth set was much needed offense. Our block got involved which helped us down the stretch."
After today's match, the Wildcats move to 11-5 overall, with a 4-0 record in Southeastern Conference play. Alabama now sits at 7-10 on the season with a 1-2 SEC mark. The Wildcats will wrap up their three-match home stand on Wednesday evening, when the team faces the Arkansas Razorbacks at 7 p.m. in Memorial Coliseum. The match is set for a national broadcast on the SEC Network and will also be viewable via the Watch ESPN app.
The Wildcats had to fend off a late charge by the visiting Tide who rallied to take set three and prolong the match. Kentucky benefited from 13 total blocks on the night - nine of which Brown was involved in. Junior Anni Thomasson registered her fourth double-double of the season to aid the Wildcat cause with 13 digs and 11 kills.
Morgan had her second match in conference play with double-figure kills, registering 12 on .450 hitting to pace the offensive effort. Sophomore Darian Mack chipped in with 12 of her own. Senior setter Morgan Bergren dished out 42 assists and added six kills of her own and narrowly missed out on a double-double of her own with nine digs.
Sophomore Ashley Dusek led the backline defensive effort with a match-high 18 digs. She has logged double-digit digs in all but one match this season. Freshman McKenzie Watson chipped in with eight digs as well.
The Wildcats took an early 3-2 lead at the beginning of set one after forcing the Crimson Tide into two errors and a block from Mack and Brown. The sides traded points to 8-8, when Morgan came up big on back-to-back plays, registering a kill and a block with the help of Brown for the 10-8 lead. Alabama responded with four straight points, backing the Wildcats into taking their first timeout, trailing 10-12. The break proved effective as UK made a 3-0 run fueled by a Brown kill and block to take a 14-13 lead. The match was tied at 18 all before a Thomasson kill and a Brown-Morgan block gave the Wildcats a 20-18 advantage forcing Alabama to take its first timeout. The Crimson Tide would take its final timeout just four points later, following another Thomasson kill to make the edge 23-19 in favor of the Cats. A block from Bergren and Morgan closed out the first, as the Wildcats earned a 25-19 win.
Thomasson had yet another kill to open the second for UK. Kentucky charged ahead, taking seven of the first nine points, even after Alabama looked to cool down the Cats with a timeout. The Wildcats continued to cruise as Morgan tapped the ball over for an 11-4 lead, forcing Alabama to use its final timeout of the set. Kentucky cruised until three straight points for Alabama forced the Wildcats to call timeout with an 18-13 lead. Despite taking the second timeout, a Crimson Tide block made it eight straight points for Alabama for an 18-18 tie. The Wildcats stopped the run, trading points as the teams tied it at 20-20, before a tap from Mack gave UK a one-point advantage. The sides traded points to 25-25, before a block from Franklin and Bergren and an Alabama error gave the Cats the second, 27-25.
Brown kicked off the first set with a giant solo block for the Wildcats. Kentucky opened up an early lead, taking five of the first six points, fueled by Brown and Thomasson, forcing an Alabama timeout at 5-1 UK. Kentucky took three more points before Alabama would score again. The two sides traded runs, Kentucky opening the lead to 10-3 before Alabama tied the match at 13-13. The Crimson Tide would open up a 17-15 lead, before a service ace from Bergren tied the match at 19-19. The teams tied again at 22, before Morgan hit her seventh kill of the day to give UK the 23-22 advantage and force an Alabama timeout. The Crimson Tide then managed to fend off set point, tying the match at 24-24 when Kentucky took its final timeout of the set. Alabama would take the final two points and the third set, 26-24 to extend the match.
The fourth set opened with nothing to separate the two sides early on, the teams trading points to 9-9. Kentucky would string together a run, as a pair of kills from Thomasson and Mack gave UK a 14-11 lead. The two sides traded points yet again and Alabama pulled back into it, tying the match at 20-20. Kentucky then took three straight points, capped by Morgan's 12th kill of the match. Alabama used both timeouts during the three-point stretch. It would not be enough as the Wildcats would go on to score the final five points for a match-clinching 25-20 set victory.
BY THE NUMBERS400 - Number of all-time wins in Memorial Coliseum for Kentucky.
18 - Total digs from sophomore libero Ashley Dusek - a match high. She has topped double-digits in all but one match this season.
12 - Kills from freshman Brooke Morgan - her second SEC match with 10 or more.
8 - Consecutive matches Darian Mack has reached double-figures kills with 12 more today.
7 - Match winning streak following today's 3-1 win over Alabama.
7 - Total matches this season Morgan Bergren has dished out 40 or more assists in a match.
4 - Double-doubles on the year for Anni Thomasson with 13 digs and 11 kills today.