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Friday, March 31, 2023

Wednesday night's dismantling of South Carolina came down to one thing: hitting percentage.

The Gamecocks were 14-0 when out-hitting their opponents and 0-3 when their opponents got the best of them.

After the Gators (15-1, 9-0 Southeastern Conference) bested the Gamecocks .381 to .186 in a 3-0 (25-22, 25-17, 25-15) win, South Carolina (14-4, 6-3 SEC) left Gainesville without breaking the trend.

The key to the Gators' advantage was freshman setter Kelly Murphy, who made sure her team came out on top of that match-deciding statistic.

"Kelly got on a roll when Cindy (Bathelt) got on a roll," said UF coach Mary Wise, who attributed Murphy's outstanding hitting performance to Bathelt's under-the-radar service game.

Standing 6-foot-2, Murphy is able to showcase a variety of skills within the confines of UF's two-setter offense.

In the first set, she dished out eight assists.

In the second set, she nearly deflated the ball when she unleashed her left arm in a display that would make most All-American outside hitters blush.

"Murph's performance is always good," UF outside hitter Colleen Ward said. "You can always count on her to get the kill."

Her eight kills in 10 attempts devastated the Gamecocks defense, allowing the Gators to cruise to a 25-17 win.

Murphy's line read 11 kills, .556 hitting percentage, 15 assists and two digs - after the second set.

Before Tuesday's practice, the mild-mannered Murphy said hitting percentage was the stat that meant the most to her. Surprising, perhaps, because the freshman has garnered attention for her triple-double performances in the three major categories.

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The third set was merely a formality, and Murphy would add two kills and seven assists on her way to leading the team in both of those statistics.

When she wasn't burying blistering attacks into the O'Connell Center's hardwood, she had to find the time to transform into a facilitator.

"It's kind of hard to switch gears when you go from front row to back row," she said. "Once you get back there, you just got to focus on setting."

Overshadowed by the crowd's cheers for Murphy was the effort turned in by fellow freshman Colleen Ward.

Ward chipped in 10 kills, six digs and got in on five block attempts - the most important number, according to her coach.

Senior Kelsey Bowers contributed her best offensive showing of the season, with half of her eight kills coming in the close first set.

"We never got out of an offensive rhythm," Wise said.

UF's coach described the Gamecocks' attack as "high-octane" before the match, a characterization better suited for her Gators after it.

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