Kentucky volleyball: No. 1 Penn State sweeps out Cats in NCAA Regional semifinal

mmaloney@herald-leader.comDecember 7, 2012 

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Once again, No. 1 was not Kentucky's lucky number.

Top-ranked Penn State ended UK's volleyball season 3-0 (25-18, 25-21, 25-12) Friday in the NCAA Regional semifinals in Mackey Arena.

The Wildcats, making their second straight Sweet Sixteen appearance, fell last year to No. 1-ranked Texas.

Penn State (32-2) will play in the regional finals Saturday at 4 p.m., facing No. 10 Minnesota, which beat host Purdue on Friday night.

Saturday's winner will go on to the Final Four at Louisville's KFC Yum Center.

Penn State has won five NCAA titles, including four in a row until the streak was snapped in last year's regional at UK, where eventual champion UCLA did the trick.

Despite the sweep, the 16th-seeded Cats (22-11) didn't go easily.

"We gave ourselves chances in games one and two. It didn't happen our way," said Craig Skinner, who has led UK to the NCAA tourney in each of his eight seasons as coach. "And game three got away from us."

Ariel Scott, Player of the Year in the Big Ten, had six kills to spark the Nittany Lions' win in the opening set.

UK made a 4-0 run, capped by back-to-back Whitney Billings kills, to lead 13-9.

The Cats still led, 17-15, on a Christine Hartmann kill.

Penn State dominated from there, though, scoring the next seven points in a 10-1 flurry.

A 5-0 run in the second set gave Penn State an 8-4 lead, but Kentucky scrapped back to tie 9-9 and 10-all.

Down 22-21, the Cats missed a chance to tie when Lauren O'Connor pushed a shot into the net.

That started a three-point rally to give Penn State the set.

"Both teams were playing very similar at the beginning of the first game and parts of the second game," Penn State Coach Russ Rose said. "I thought the key for us was that our defense was so good. We didn't give them any easy kills.

"For us to outdig them by 10 (42-32) was really important. We thought the key for us was that our defense needed to match their defense. We saw them play last year ... when they were hosting the regional and they played great against Texas. So we knew that their defensive intensity was going to be very high, and Skinner does a great job."

UK led briefly in the early moments of the third set, the last time at 4-2.

Penn State came back with an 8-1 run and pulled away.

"If we're able to turn a couple more points in sets one and two and steal a game, then it's a completely different mind-set for us," Skinner said, "and Penn State understands that we're for real, to make this match."

Billings, a junior, led UK with eight kills, and also had nine digs.

"The people that come back next year need to remember how this feels," Billings said. "And it sucks."

At least she has next year to ponder.

Ashley Frazier, who finished with seven kills, ended her collegiate career untypically with 11 attack errors.

"I was trying to be aggressive and sometimes it wasn't so smart," Frazier said. "When it wasn't in a place where I couldn't take a rip at it, I probably should have just been smart and put in play. Instead, I chose the aggressive. That resulted in quite a few errors."

Aggression is what Skinner asked for, though.

"I'm very proud of the way we kept our composure because there were some people that weren't playing real well," Skinner said. "Outsides weren't able to terminate the ball the way they normally did, but I'm proud of the way Frazier and O'Connor kept being aggressive."

Stephanie Klefot, three-time libero of the year in the Southeastern Conference, had 11 digs.

"It just didn't fall our way," the senior said. "They were attacking the ball pretty hard and serving pretty hard and we needed to get into the system a little bit more I guess. We just weren't ourselves tonight."

Scott led Penn State with 11 kills. Deja McClendon, out of Manual High School, added eight kills and 10 digs.

"It's definitely (good) to play against your friends, but we're all fighting for the same thing and everybody wants to win," McClendon said. "It's nice that we could go out there and play tough."

Mark Maloney: (859) 231-3229. Twitter: @markmaloneyHL.Blog: markmaloney.bloginky.com

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