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Florida beats UK, gains share of SEC volleyball title

Kentucky's volleyball team got Florida to wobble a bit Sunday, but there was no knocking over the Gators.

No. 7 Florida pulled out a 3-1 victory — 25-29, 14-25, 25-21, 25-16 — before a Memorial Coliseum crowd of 2,743 for its 16th consecutive victory. The Gators (21-3, 15-0 Southeastern Conference) thus clinched at least a share of the SEC title.

No. 15 UK (23-5, 12-3) had a five-match winning streak snapped.

The Wildcats looked like world-beaters in the second set, hitting .591. After the intermission, though, everything went the Gators' way.

"We had zero aces in the match, and we're a better serving team than that," UK Coach Craig Skinner said. "Limited their attacking options in set two and part of set one and three; just didn't get them out of system enough where we could score points on defense."

The second set marked only the third set Florida has dropped in SEC play all season. It also snapped a 25-set unbeaten streak.

"And went down in a big way because I think Kentucky hit over .500 in that set," said Florida Coach Mary Wise, an assistant coach at UK from 1986-89 and associate head coach in 1989-90, "But what we're most pleased with is how we responded."

After hitting .107 in the second set, Florida went .321 in the third and .429 in the fourth.

Rhamat Alhassan and Lex Holston led the Gators with 15 kills each, while Simone Antwi added 10. Holston also served up three of UF's five aces.

"Florida is a very good team," Skinner said. "We showed we can play with them, but you've got to be able to sustain it for two hours, and we didn't sustain it long enough. I saw some glimpses of some really good stuff from us, but not good enough at the end."

UK's Shelby Workman had 12 kills, one more than Anni Thomasson.

The Cats were within 16-14 in the first set, but Florida then used a 6-0 flurry to break things open.

UK turned the tables in the second set, reeling off nine points in a row to take a 14-5 lead. Florida never came closer than seven after that.

Whatever Wise told her team during the break, it worked.

"It wasn't a huge fire-up speech," Wise said. "Give the credit to Kentucky. Their pin-hitters were so good working out of the back row. They did so many really good things. And we knew we'd get a very well-coached Kentucky team playing very well."

"I think we just had a lot of momentum in the second set and we just didn't come out in the third and fourth with the fire that we had in the second set," Thomasson said. "And the crowd helped a lot in the second set, and didn't in the third and fourth."

Did UK miss an opportunity?

"Definitely, yep," Thomasson said. "They're a very beatable team. They're a great team, but they're definitely beatable."

Florida gradually opened a gap in the third set, using three consecutive 2-1 exchanges to mount a 14-10 lead. The Cats never came closer than three the rest of the set.

The Gators bolted to a 3-0 lead in the fourth set. Back-to-back aces by Holston made it 9-3. UK never cut the gap to less than four from there.

"I think there were moments where if both teams can capture some of those high moments, both teams can advance in the NCAA Tournament," Wise said. "We are each other's greatest supporters. The key for our league is can we advance? Because we're all judged on how you do in the last two weeks of the season."

"We've just got to get better," Skinner said. "Got to get back in the gym this week and improve and make some adjustments to how we serve, and get ready to go down to Mississippi State next weekend."

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