UK ‘re­ally steps up’ to reach Sweet 16

Lexington Herald-Leader (Sunday) - - Sports - BY JEN­NIFER SMITH

There was a lot of talk about weath­er­ing storms af­ter Ken­tucky’s firstround NCAA Tour­na­ment vic­tory on Fri­day night.

“We’re re­ally good at weath­er­ing storms and that re­ally helps us,” ju­nior Leah Ed­mond ex­plained af­ter­ward.

That anal­ogy seemed es­pe­cially fit­ting the next night, too, as a loud thun­der­storm raged out­side Me­mo­rial Coli­seum while the Cats had to weather a few more of their own in­side.

But ul­ti­mately they found a way to get through the dif­fi­cul­ties and ad­vance to the Sweet 16 for a se­cond straight sea­son with a three-set vic­tory over Pur­due on Sat­ur­day night, 25-20, 25-21, 25-14.

“Our team re­ally stepped up and made a state­ment to­day,” Coach Craig Skin­ner said, not­ing that it was too soon for two top-12 teams to meet in the tour­na­ment.

The win was No. 23 in a row for Ken­tucky, its long­est streak un­der Skin­ner, and the long­est for the pro­gram since 1993.

The Cats (26-4) have swept 11 of their last 12 op­po­nents.

Next, UK will meet the win­ner of Ne­braskaMis­souri, who be­gan play about an hour af­ter Sat­ur­day night’s game in Lex­ing­ton started. The re­gional games most likely will be played at Min­nesota on Fri­day and Sat­ur­day night next week.

Ne­braska would be a fa­mil­iar foe for the Cats, who were knocked out of last year’s tour­na­ment by the Corn­huskers, 3-1, in the re­gional fi­nals in Me­mo­rial Coli­seum.

True fresh­man Alli Stum­ler, who had eight kills in the se­cond-round win, talked on Fri­day night about how Ken­tucky’s se­niors “bring a sense of calm­ness” to the Cats.

They did that again, es­pe­cially 6-foot-5 mid­dle blocker Brooke Mor­gan, who had five of her 12 kills in the se­cond set, in which Ken­tucky had to rally back from in a hurry and get past some crit­i­cal er­rors late to win out 25-21. Mor­gan also notched four ser­vice aces on the night.

Ed­mond had a game­high 13 kills in the vic­tory. Stum­ler did her part with eight kills and 15 digs for the Cats. Steady set­ter Madi­son Lil­ley had a match-high 37 as­sists on 49 kills. Gabby Curry recorded 18 digs.

In front of 2,794 in Me­mo­rial Coli­seum, UK opened the first set with an early 4-0 scor­ing run and grabbed a quick 9-3 ad­van­tage over the Boil­er­mak­ers. Pur­due stormed back be­hind its blocks, scor­ing four in a row to cut the Cats’ lead to two points, 19-17.

But the Cats pre­vailed be­hind good place­ment and strong net play, win­ning out 25-20 be­hind three kills apiece from Ed­mond and Mor­gan.

“It took a lit­tle bit for us to set­tle in against that,” Lil­ley said of Pur­due’s stout block­ing.

Ken­tucky was helped early in the first set by three ser­vice aces from three dif­fer­ent play­ers.

Pur­due (24-9) stormed back in the se­cond set and grabbed a 5-2 lead early be­fore the Cats were able to set­tle in and grab the lead back 9-8 on a Mor­gan kill.

That started a fivepoint rally for Ken­tucky that looked like it would shut down Pur­due, but the Boil­ers roared back, cut­ting the Ken­tucky lead to a point, 21-20, af­ter the Cats had three straight er­rors.

But even when things weren’t go­ing UK’s way in those storms, there wasn’t panic. This is a team that has tried to evolve and not get too high or too low at those mo­ments.

“I never felt like we were down,” Curry said. “That steadi­ness is where we’re try­ing to get to.”

The Boil­er­mak­ers were paced by Blake Mohler’s 10 kills. Sher­ri­dan Atkin­son added nine kills. Pur­due man­aged just 27 kills in the three­set match and had no other player with more than three.

MARK MA­HAN Lex­ing­ton

Ken­tucky’s Ali Stum­ler goes up for a kill in a sweep of Pur­due in the se­cond round of the NCAA tour­na­ment.

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