ATHENS, Ga. – In one of the wildest finishes in recent Kentucky volleyball history, Georgia pushed past the 15th-ranked Wildcats 3-2 (25-18, 23-25, 13-25, 25-21, 23-21) behind a thrilling and dramatic fifth set that saw 11 ties and six lead changes with a 23-21 score. Kentucky received a career-day from sophomore Sara Schwarzwalder and Whitney Billings registered her 39th career double-double, but it was not enough for the Wildcats to win on the road in front of 1,799 fans in Stegeman Coliseum.
Schwarzwalder had a career-high 14 kills on .207 hitting, while Billings logged 15 kills and 19 digs. Senior Alexandra Morgan added 11 kills and a team-high six blocks, while junior Lauren O’Conner notched 10 kills and added a trio of aces.
“We had too many hitting errors in sets four and five,” UK coach Craig Skinner said. “Give credit to Georgia for making tough plays down the stretch, as they were able to capitalize when our execution was off.”
Kentucky will return to the floor on Friday at 7 p.m. ET as the Cats play host to Mississippi State. Sunday the Blue and White welcomes Alabama for a 1:30 p.m. ET tilt that will be broadcast live by the UK IMG Network.
The loss drops Kentucky to 13-5 overall on the year and 5-2 in league play. Georgia improves to 15-6 overall and 5-4 in Southeastern Conference action.
Freshman Anni Thomasson contributed seven kills and nine digs, while sophomore Morgan Bergren passed out 48 assists while totaling seven kills and nine scoops. Junior Jackie Napper tallied 13 digs and freshman Kelsey Wolf added three.
In the decisive fifth frame, the Bulldogs got a double-block to take the first point before Billings fired back with a kill. Kentucky answered with two more points as O’Conner logged an ace and Schwarzwalder got a kill for a 3-1 lead. Another Billings’ kill pushed UK’s lead to 4-2, but the Bulldogs responded with two-straight kills of their own to tie things at four apiece. Three consecutive errors by the home team returned the edge to Kentucky at 7-4. A kill from Morgan gave the Blue and White an 8-5 lead into the switching of sides.
Georgia earned the first point following the break, but UK then scored four-straight which included two blocks from Schwarzwalder Bergren for an 11-6 Wildcat lead. A 3-0 run by the Bulldogs allowed the home squad to pull to within two at 12-10. Following a UK timeout, Georgia scored another one before Schwarzwalder ended the run to give UK a 13-11 lead. Georgia opted to use its final timeout and scored two-straight to tie the score at 13 all prompting Kentucky to take its final timeout.
Following a 6-1 Georgia run, Billings answered with a kill cross-court to give UK match point. The Bulldogs answered with a kill following a length rally to save match point. Again the Wildcats went to the senior in Billings who again lifted UK to match point at 15-14. Prolonging the match, the Bulldogs were able to tool the Cats’ block. Morgan followed suit with a tool-kill of her own pushing Kentucky to a 16-15 lead. A Bulldog block continued the impressive play between both teams continuing the match. A hitting error by the Cats enabled the Bulldogs to earn match-point at 17-16. Kentucky then forced the home team into a hitting error lengthening the match yet again. Georgia responded with a kill giving the home team its second match point of the set. A crafty play by Billings getting a kill to the deep corner staved off the match for UK. O’Conner’s shot to the back corner gave the Blue and White a 19-18 lead. Georgia once again fended off the Cats. An ace by the Bulldogs was followed by a service error. The Bulldogs went too deep and then the Wildcats gave the point right back with a service error.
With the match all square at 21-21, Kentucky was forced into a hitting error of its own. With a final match point, the Bulldogs converted by slicing a kill off of UK’s block for the winning point at 23-21.
Kentucky jumped out to a 2-0 advantage following kills from Schwarzwalder and Billings to begin the second set. The Bulldogs fired back for a pair of kills of their own to tie things at two apiece. Kentucky got a block from the Thomasson-Schwarzwalder, but Georgia clawed back and took its first lead at 7-6 before a service error tied things again at seven. The home team responded by scoring the next two points to claim a 9-7 lead. Kentucky climbed back into things with an ace from Napper and then a cross-court kill from Billings for a 13-12 lead. The Wildcats forced the Bulldogs into a hitting error to take a 15-13 lead into the media break.
Consecutive smashes from the right hand of Morgan pushed UK’s lead to 17-14 and the Bulldogs burned their first timeout. Out of the break, Morgan continued her impressive run with two more kills including off a tremendous rally from both teams. UK then forced a miscue and grabbed a 20-14 lead utilizing a 5-0 run. Georgia responded with a 3-0 run of its own to pull to within 20-17. UK earned set point at 24-18 before the Bulldogs staved off set point five times before O’Conner capped the set with a kill for the win to even the match at one set apiece.
Kentucky totaled 16 kills on a .204 hitting clip with Billings and Morgan both contributing four apiece. Billings also added six digs. Georgia accumulated 12 kills on a .176 clip.
The Wildcats earned a 7-2 lead to open the third set highlighted by a block from Bergren and Schwarzwalder and a pair of aces from Morgan. Georgia took an early timeout, and UK responded out of the break with a kill from Schwarzwalder followed by a hitting error by the Bulldogs. Kentucky kept the assault going as Thomasson put an exclamation point on the run with consecutive solo rejections to push UK’s advantage to 16-6. The margin would be all the more UK needed en route to a dominating 25-13 third set win and a 2-1 lead in the match.
UK totaled 10 kills on .500 hitting and did not commit an error. Schwarzwalder had a team-high four kills on a perfect 1.000 clip. Billings again led the way with four digs and Thomasson had two blocks. Georgia scored 10 points on kills but managed a mere .087 hitting percentage.
The squads opened play by exchanging points back and forth until Georgia shook loose for four-straight points to grab a 10-7 edge. O’Conner ended the run with her second kill of the early going. Georgia fired back by scoring the next two points and the Blue and White opted to use its first timeout trailing 12-8. The designated home team was able to extend the lead to a 19-10 advantage midway through the set. The gap was too large to overcome for the visitors as Georgia earned the 25-18 set victory for a 1-0 lead in the match.
Kentucky struck for 14 kills, but committed eight hitting errors for a .162 hitting percentage. O’Conner had four hammers and Schwarzwalder notched three. Georgia posted 13 kills on a .278 hitting and benefited from four blocks for the win.
Kentucky took its first lead at 3-2 following a kill from Billings to start the fourth set. Georgia fired back immediately and claimed a 6-3 edge after a string of errors by the Cats. UK climbed back into things and knotted the score at eight, before a service error by the visitors gave the edge right back to the Bulldogs. A kill from Bergren gave UK back the lead at 10-9. Bergren continued to call her number and had a trio of kills within a string of four points to give UK a 14-12 lead, but a 3-0 run from the Bulldogs gave the home team the lead at 15-14 into the media break.
Out of the break, Bergren found the hot hand again in Schwarzwalder as UK immediately tied the score at 15. Georgia followed suit with consecutive points for a 17-15 advantage. Kentucky continued to claw back and pulled to within one at 21-20 on Billings’ 10th kill of the match forcing the Bulldogs into a timeout. Out of the break, Thomasson knotted the score with an ace. Georgia fired back, however, to score the final four points of the set for a 25-21 set win to force the decisive fifth frame.
Georgia tallied 10 kills on a .172 hitting clip, but benefited from 12 hitting errors by the Cats.
Kentucky's Memorial Coliseum will play host to the NCAA Regionals Dec. 13-14. UK is one of four sites selected for the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight matchups with one team advancing to the Final Four in Seattle, Wash., from the Lexington Region. This marks the second time in three seasons Memorial Coliseum will host this premier volleyball event. Tickets for the event are available now at UKathletics.com/tickets.
Visit UKathletics.com for the most up-to-date information on the Kentucky volleyball team and all 22 varsity sports. For additional info on the volleyball team like Kentucky Volleyball on Facebook or follow the team on Twitter at @KentuckyVB.
Information provided by Deb Moore, UK Athletics
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