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Kentucky hosts NCAA volleyball looking to build on tradition

UK head coach Craig Skinner encourages his team against Duquesne during their first round game in the 2013 NCAA Volleyball Tournament at Memorial Coliseum in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, December 7, 2013. Photo by Matt Goins
UK head coach Craig Skinner encourages his team against Duquesne during their first round game in the 2013 NCAA Volleyball Tournament at Memorial Coliseum in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, December 7, 2013. Photo by Matt Goins Herald-Leader

The University of Kentucky volleyball team enters the postseason red hot, having won eight of its last nine matches.

The Wildcats' opening-round opponent can match UK's late-season success win for win, and then some.

Oakland University of Rochester Hills, Mich., comes into Friday's match in Memorial Coliseum on a 10-match winning streak, having won the Horizon League regular season and tournament championships.

If the Golden Grizzlies seem familiar to Big Blue Nation, that's because it was Oakland that ended Kentucky's men's soccer season in a first-round NCAA Tournament game at UK last month.

Oakland (22-9) is making its first NCAA Tournament appearance in volleyball.

As one of just 10 teams in the country to advance to the NCAA Tournament each of the past 10 seasons, Kentucky has enjoyed much more postseason exposure than Oakland. Coach Craig Skinner has led the Wildcats into the NCAA Tournament in each of his 10 seasons at UK.

Kentucky is making its 16th appearance in the tournament. The Wildcats are 15-15 in NCAA action — including 10-4 in Lexington — with eight regional appearances and two trips to the Elite Eight.

UK's No. 13 overall seed this season is the best in program history.

Prior to Kentucky's 7:30 p.m. match against Oakland on Friday, Ohio State (21-11) will play Lipscomb (21-8) at 5 p.m. in Memorial Coliseum. The two winners meet Saturday at 7 p.m. with a spot in the Sweet 16 at stake. Ohio State finished fifth in the Big Ten. Lipscomb won the Atlantic Sun regular-season title.

Kentucky (26-5, 14-3 Southeastern Conference) enters the postseason having won three matches in a row.

Eight of Kentucky's 2014 opponents made the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats went 5-5 against NCAA teams, with victories over Alabama, LSU, Texas A&M, Creighton and Lipscomb and losses to Southern California, North Carolina, LSU, Texas A&M and Florida.

Kentucky and Oakland played three common opponents this season. Kentucky beat Missouri, Lipscomb and Xavier. Oakland beat Missouri but lost to the other two.

The Wildcats are led by All-SEC honorees Jackie Napper, Lauren O'Conner, Morgan Bergren, Anni Thomasson and Kaz Brown.

Murray, WKU also in field

Two other teams from Kentucky join UK in the NCAA Tournament, and both open play in Champaign, Ill., on Friday.

Western Kentucky (30-5) takes on Iowa State (18-9) at 5:30 p.m. Murray State (26-5) faces No. 9 seed Illinois (24-7) at 8 p.m. The winners meet Saturday at 8.

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