Hogs defeat Kentucky for first-ever Elite 8 appearance

1 day ago
Arkansas Athletics

Photo: Arkansas Athletics

The third-seeded Razorbacks had their hands full in the round of 16 taking on the second-seeded Kentucky Wildcats after losing twice to them in the regular season, but the third time was the charm for Arkansas as the Hogs defeated the Cats 3-2 on Thursday to advance to their first-ever regional final appearance.

In addition to going a step further in the tournament, it was the first victory over Kentucky for the team since 2012, the first in head coach Jason Watson’s tenure and the first for the team’s prolific senior class.

Graduate outside hitter Jill Gillen had a stellar night for Arkansas with 20 kills on 46 swings with just two errors for a .391 hitting percentage, two aces, and 12 digs for a double-double.

Gillen was one of four Hogs on the night who had double-doubles, along with Taylor Head, Maggie Cartwright and Hannah Hogue. Cartwright also had a historic match with two aces, which solidified a spot in the program career top 10 for her.

Junior libero Courtney Jackson had a tremendous outing anchoring the Hog defense with a team-high 19 digs, while junior middle blocker Sania Petties put down five blocks – two solo and three block assists – to keep the Wildcats at bay.

The Hogs will face off against No. 1 overall seed Nebraska in Saturday’s regional final at 5 p.m. in Lincoln, and the match will be broadcast live on ESPNU.

Set 1

The Wildcats maintained control through much of the first set to start, but the Hogs found their groove and used a four-point run to come within one at 12-11. It didn’t last long though as the Cats roared back with a 9-3 run that pushed it to 21-14 in their favor. Arkansas wouldn’t go quietly and rattled off eight of the next 11 points, and an ace by Gillen put the Hogs within striking distance down three. But time ran out for the Razorbacks as a Wildcat kill closed the set 25-22 for Kentucky and put them up 1-0 in the match.

Set 2

In the second set, Arkansas grabbed the lead first, but the Wildcats found a way to respond and stayed on the Hogs’ heels. There were three ties after the 10th point, but the cats got a narrow three-point lead at the media break, 15-12. The Hogs stayed calm and rattled off three straight points shortly after for a 22-20 advantage, which sent Kentucky to a timeout. The Cats tied it immediately after, but the final three points, capped with an ace from Jackson, made it 25-22 for the Razorbacks and knotted the match.

Set 3

The Hogs came out blazing in the third set and got a 5-8 lead early off an ace from Cartwright. Arkansas dominated the set from there and pushed their lead to 16-10 after a trio of kills and an ace from Hogue at 16-10. The Cats called time and tacked on two more, but Arkansas went on a five-point tear and made it 22-13 quickly. Back-to-back kills from Head pushed it to set point, which was spoiled by Kentucky, but a third from Taylor sealed the third 25-15 for the Razorbacks.

Set 4

The Hogs found themselves chasing early, but back-to-back solo blocks from Petties and Gillen gave Arkansas a 9-7 lead. Kentucky responded just as quickly and went up 15-12 at the media timeout, an advantage the Cats would continue to hold for the remainder of the set. Arkansas came within one twice off kills from Cartwright and Head, but Kentucky finished the set on a 4-2 run and forced a fifth.

Set 5

The Hogs were immediately in control in the deciding set as they saw kills from Head, Evans, and two from Gillen for an early 5-1 advantage. The Cats called time and trimmed the deficit to 6-4, but a kill and a solo block from Head doubled the lead at 8-4 as the teams switched sides. Kentucky stayed right in it and came within one at 8-7, but a timeout sparked Arkansas and the Hogs extended the lead to four. A Kentucky service error and an ace by Jada Lawson pushed it to match point for Arkansas, and while the Wildcats got one back, a final kill from Gillen shut the door on the set 15-10 and secured the match victory.

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