UF volleyball beats Kentucky in thriller

Published: Sunday, October 7, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, October 8, 2012 at 12:10 a.m.

The two hottest teams in the Southeastern Conference squared off in the O’Connell Center Sunday in a regionally televised match, and the result was an old-fashioned barn-burner.

Spurred on by an enthusiastic crowd of 3,008, 11th-ranked Florida rallied from an 0-2 deficit for a thrilling five-set victory over a talented and upset-minded Kentucky squad that had the Gators on the ropes but could not score the knockout punch.

UF (13-2, 7-0), playing just its second five-set match of the season and first one at home, survived by scores of 22-25, 20-25, 25-22, 25-22, 15-8 to earn its 10th consecutive victory while turning back the Wildcats (10-7, 4-3), who were riding a season-high four-match winning streak of their own.

It marked the first time UF had rallied for a 3-2 win in the O-Dome after losing the first two sets since pulling off the feat Sept. 6, 2008, against Long Beach State.

“I think the tale of the match is that Kentucky played so well, especially early-on, and we just were having a hard time getting in sync offensively,” coach Mary Wise said.

“Defensively, we were doing some decent things. It wasn’t like Kentucky was hitting over .300 in the first and second set. We just couldn’t get untracked.”

Freshman Ziva Recek led the Gators with 19 kills while redshirt junior Chloe Mann added 11 kills and a team-high .409 hitting mark to go with two solo blocks and four block assists.

Redshirt senior Tangerine Wiggs just missed double digits with nine kills and hit a solid .348 with only one error, while junior setter Taylor Braunheis just missed a double-double with nine digs to go with her match-high 47 assists as first-place UF remained the only unbeaten SEC team in league play.

“In situations like that when you’re down 0-2, you can’t really let your confidence slip because that’s when teams can get on a run and really get some confidence,” Wiggs said. “So it’s really important in that situation that we rallied together as a team and fed off each others’ energy.”

Wise noted that UF’s focus was on not letting Kentucky junior outside hitter Whitney Billings, the reigning SEC Player of the Week, beat them, and the strategy worked – barely.

UK’s Lauren O’Conner, a 6-5 sophomore, came through with 18 kills, tying her career-high, and a match-high .421 hitting percentage but was held without a point in the decisive fifth set.

Billings, meanwhile, did record her third straight double-double with 12 kills and 12 digs, but was held to just an .030 hitting mark.

Recek added eight digs and a pair of service aces for UF while upping her team-leading total to 207 kills for the season. She took a career-high 54 attacks in the match, but Wise said many of those were forced as the result of some uncharacteristic early passing woes by the Gators.

“Ziva obviously carried us through some pretty dark moments in that match,” Wise said. “Once we started to pass the ball somewhere on our side in the air, that allowed Taylor Braunheis to get a ball. Then we started distributing it.

“It was a strange match, but at the end of the day, it’s still a victory.”

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