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Thursday, March 30, 2023

No amount of history was going to help UF defeat Georgia on Sunday.

The No. 8 Gators faced off with the Bulldogs for the 45th time in the coach Mary Wise era, and for the first time in that 18-year period, Georgia came out victorious 3-2 (25-22, 18-25, 23-25, 25-23, 15-12).

"We didn't lose this match as much as Georgia won it," Wise said. "They did it with their blocking."

The discrepancy in that category was telling, as the Bulldogs (14-9, 7-5 SEC) tallied 17 blocks to the Gators' eight.

UF (17-2, 11-1 Southeastern Conference) held the advantage in almost every other meaningful statistic (kills, assists, digs and hitting percentage), and it is now apparent why Wise constantly stresses the importance of blocking balls above all else.

Veteran middle blockers Kelsey Bowers and Kristina Johnson were not effective, combining for three kills and getting in on just four blocks.

Wise commended Bowers for coming out and playing hard while clearly being limited by a back injury, but the production from the middle of the court just wasn't there.

Sophomore Callie Rivers turned in her worst offensive game of the season, killing just six balls and committing nine errors on a team-high 38 swings.

Rivers, along with fellow outside hitters Kristy Jaeckel (34 total attempts, .147 hitting percentage) and Colleen Ward (14 total attempts, .000 hitting percentage), failed to give the Gators any kind of production from the left side.

"You just can't have so many people, on the same night, play poorly," Wise said.

Once again, freshman Kelly Murphy provided a standout offensive performance, recording a match-high 18 kills on a .441 hitting percentage to go along with 24 assists.

As a team, UF hit .166, an already paltry number that would have been significantly lower without Murphy's contributions.

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Wise took much of the blame after the match, saying the coaches didn't do a good job of preparing the team. She also said Kentucky (20-3, 11-1 SEC) is now in the driver's seat to win the SEC regular season title because of its significantly easier schedule down the stretch.

The Gators still control their own destiny, however. If they win the rest of their matches (including round two with the Wildcats in Lexington, Ky., on Nov. 16), then they will take home the SEC crown for the 18th time in Wise's 18 years at UF.

Before going on the road this weekend, UF associate coach Nick Cheronis warned that the trip would test his team.

LSU and Georgia were looking for quality wins to bolster a post-season resume, and each team took the Gators to five sets.

Now UF will try to hold on to the conference title and take something away from many of the players' first ever loss in league play.

"The message is: What are you going to do about it?" Wise said. "How are you going to respond?"

A radio broadcast contributed to this report.

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