Quite the performance from the Kentucky Wildcats tonight. As the second overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, UK has now swept it its first two opponents to advance to the Elite Eight.
Tonight’s — or, I should say, this morning’s — Sweet Sixteen victory came in an intra-commonwealth battle with the Hill Toppers of Western Kentucky. Though they lost, the Toppers deserve credit for a fantastic season. WKU was 23-0 on the year before meeting Kentucky in the regional semifinal and they defeated the 15th overall seed Washington State to get there.
Plus, they gave Kentucky a real scare in the first set. In the early going, the two teams traded points back and forth with WKU’s rare three-attacker style of play giving the ‘Cats early fits. As the set progressed, Kentucky maintained a two-or-three-point lead and finally put it out of reach at the end, winning 25-20 to get on top.
Ahzani Tealer came out of the gates delivering some absolute heaters off the attack. The sophomore middle blocker was far more than a defensive stopper at the net in the first. She had four kills on four swings after one and Madi Skinner led the way with five of her own, also chipping in on the set-winning block:
Set 1? ?? Kentucky
— Kentucky Volleyball (@KentuckyVB) April 19, 2021
After a close opening set, Kentucky asserted themselves in the second. They got out to a five-point lead at 11-6 and never really looked back. From there, they pushed it to seven, then peaked at nine, winning the middle set 25-16.
This time, the other Skinner was making an impact on the attack. Avery recorded four kills in the set, including a rocket off the face of WKU’s starting setter, sending her straight to concussion protocol. Really, you could use that one play as an allegory for the rest of the game.
The third set was a slaughtering. It was tied at 2-2 and then the ‘Cats went on a 13-4 run to erase any ideas of a possible comeback. From there, they cruised to a third-set victory and a second sweep in two games thus far in the NCAA Tournament.
The teams they’ve played are good, too. In fact, Kentucky’s two acronymous opponents, WKU and UNLV, combined for fewer losses this season than Kentucky. That’s right, UK had just one and these two were a combined 36-0. Pretty stiff competition for the no. 2 overall seed.
Nonetheless, they sweep and advance.
This Kentucky team is like a serpent. They don’t always choke you out immediately, but as the games progress, they just suffocate their opponents, especially at the net. Throughout most of the first set, the two teams were about even on hitting% but Kentucky finished with a juggernaut .450% while WKU barely broke even at .093%.
Offensively, these girls rule. Their setter, Madison Lilley, just won SEC Player of the Year and I promise you she’s the best setter in the whole country. Her tracking skills, vision and athleticism are simply off the charts; and she’s setting up a group of hitters headlined by the Skinner sisters and Alli Stumler. It also includes Ahzani Tealer who possesses a Zion-like vertical and as of now is fifth in the nation in hitting%.
Just a special group of volleyball players.
— NCAA Women's Volleyball (@NCAAVolleyball) April 19, 2021
On the day, Lilley finished with 38 assists and a pair of kills, while Stumler led the attack with 17 kills and 4 digs. Madi Skinner was excellent as well with 11 kills and her sister Avery finished with 7 while Tealer racked up 8 on just 9 swats.
As it has been lately, the back row play has continued to get better. The ‘Cats have three superb passers cycling through the lineup in upperclassmen Gabby Curry and Lauren Tharp, while freshman Riah Walker has been impressive all year when she’s gotten minutes.
The announcers made it a point all night…this Kentucky team is playing a championship level, has all season and just made mincemeat out of their 36-0 competition.
Even though these girls didn’t get finished until after midnight, they’ll be playing for a Final Four appearance tomorrow evening vs. no. 7 Purdue on ESPNU, with the game starting approximately 45 minutes after the conclusion of the 6:30 match.
Great performance and Go ‘Cats!
(Check out these highlights while you’re here)