UK volleyball sweeps Duquesne in NCAA Tournament

mmaloney@herald-leader.comDecember 7, 2013 

UK's Whitney Billings killed against Duquesne's Madelynn Burnham, left, and Lacey Levers.

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Coach Craig Skinner liked what he saw from his Kentucky Wildcats in Saturday's first round of the NCAA Volleyball Tournament.

No. 17 UK dispatched Duquesne 3-0 (25-23, 25-17, 25-17) in front of 1,159 fans in Memorial Coliseum.

"A good 3-0 win," Skinner said. "I actually was really happy with how aggressive we came out in set one. ... Made a couple errors, but that's fine. We want to be aggressive, and you have to play like that in the tournament."

UK (22-8) will face No. 20 Michigan State in Sunday's sub-region final at 4 p.m.

The Spartans won Saturday's opener over Ohio 3-0 (25-21, 25-22, 25-19).

"Two very physical teams," Skinner said of Sunday's matchup. "Two teams that kill the ball at a high percentage, and two teams with experience playing against very good competition. So it's going to be a great matchup. It's going to be important for us to come out aggressively like we did tonight."

UK, in the NCAA tourney for a school-record ninth straight season, trailed Duquesne 16-15 before taking over the first set.

"We just realized we had to get it going," said Whitney Billings, who led the Cats with 18 kills and finished with eight digs and a .406 hitting percentage. "At some point in the game you have to push on the gas and just go. So we just kept going for it."

UK scored the next five points and was never caught, although the Dukes (20-10) made it interesting by fighting off four match points.

"They (the Dukes) came out with a purpose to win the match and they did a nice job of forcing us to be a little more intelligent with some of the things we did," Skinner said. "Our defense picked up and these two (Billings and Alexandra Morgan) here did a really nice job of following the game plan and hitting smart shots.

"Our serving was very good tonight — I've got to compliment that, and being able to limit some of the options that Duquesne had offensively. Overall, very pleased with being able to get out of round one with a victory."

Morgan hit .455 with six kills and five blocks.

"We knew that they had really strong hitters at each position, which can be pretty hard to defend," Morgan said. "I think we did a good job of realizing that in the first game and then coming back with stronger swings in the second and third games."

The Wildcats had early 6-0 runs to take charge in the second and third sets.

Anni Thomasson added 12 kills for UK, while Jackie Napper had 11 digs. Morgan Bergren totaled five kills and 43 assists.

Marah Farage had eight kills for Duquesne, the Atlantic-10 champion.

"Just a great match today by our team and, obviously, Kentucky," Dukes Coach Steve Opperman said. "Our first time to the NCAA Tournament, we couldn't be more proud of our school, university, great kids who are representing us. Had a great time pushing Kentucky, especially the first set. We were just really pleased to be here and leave it all out on the floor."

In the opener, Michigan State (22-11) was led by Lauren Wicinski with 16 kills and nine digs, and Alexis Mathews with 10 kills and five blocks.

Ohio (27-5) was swept for the first time all season. The Bobcats got 12 kills and eight digs from Katie Horton.

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

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