The volleyball gods knew how to end No. 15 Kentucky's five-set battle with Michigan State in what was billed as the Bluegrass Battle Friday night. The ball hung conveniently over the net, and sophomore Kaz Brown smashed it for a winner to end an entertaining competition between two ranked teams.
Brown's 20th kill, which more than doubled her previous career high, punctuated Kentucky's 29-27, 15-25, 25-22, 23-25 and 15-12 victory on the season's opening night.
"You want to be a go-to player," Brown said afterward. "You want to be the player in that situation. It's game point. 'I want the ball. I want to put the ball away.'"
Brown, who came to UK from Waterloo, Iowa, had no more than eight kills last season.
"Kaz saved our butts on a lot of stuff," teammate Anni Thomasson said. "She had a great game. Twenty? That's freakin' awesome. She's a beast. A stud."
One of several threats on a front line Kentucky expects to be dominant this season, Brown needed time to become a go-to player. UK Coach Craig Skinner noted that Brown came to school as a 17-year-old freshman.
"As long and tall as she is (UK lists Brown as 6-foot-4), it took a year to get that strength, and develop that core strength to be able to sustain things for longer," Skinner said. "She kicked some butt this summer with our strength coach, and I think we're seeing the results."
Brown became the first UK player with 20 kills since Lauren O'Conner had 21 against Georgia on Nov. 11 of last season.
"That's an elite performance for a middle attacker, for sure," Skinner said.
Said Thomasson of Brown's previous career high of eight kills, "She dwarfed it. She's grown into a really good player, and by her senior year, she's going to be phenomenal."
Brown attributed her performance to "just adrenaline" produced by the season opener against No. 19 Michigan State in a match televised by the SEC Network.
UK, which has only three upperclassmen, had to work to win a home opener for the 13th time in the last 14 seasons.
"It was great," Thomasson said of the match. "Very intense. Every point mattered."
The first set alone had a night's worth of action and drama. Each team twice saved set points before Brown's block at the net gave Kentucky the set 29-27.
That shot helped validate something setter Morgan Bergren had said on Media Day: "I think we're going to be dominant at the net."
Kentucky continues the aptly named Bluegrass Battle with two matches on Saturday. UK plays IUPUI at 10:30 a.m., then Little Rock at 7:30 p.m.