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Thursday, May 23, 2024

After Friday night’s opening set, it appeared that the Gators’ rigorous early-season schedule had finally worn them down, as the team hit just .070 in their 25-18 defeat.

But No. 3 Florida (7-1, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) proved that set one was just a bump in the road, as it hit .307 the rest of the way and cruised to a 3-1 (18-25, 25-19, 25-13, 25-20) victory over No. 22 Kentucky (6-5, 0-1 SEC).

With the win, Florida moves to 20-0 in SEC season openers under coach Mary Wise.

Right side hitters Kelly Murphy and Tangerine Wiggs led the way for the Gators, hitting .520 and .421, respectively.

Murphy led the team with 17 kills and 23 assists for her fourth consecutive double-double while Wiggs chipped in nine kills of her own.

“The difference in the match was the offense out of our right side,” Wise said. “Their right side was pretty good too, but today ours was just a little bit better.”

Outside hitters Kristy Jaeckel and Callie Rivers combined to hit just .117, but made up for their lack of scoring on defense and at the service line.

Rivers recorded a match-high 13 digs and hit her team-leading 11th  ace, while Jaeckel tied for second on the team with nine digs and blasted a match-high three aces.

“We ask so much of Kristy and Callie,” Wise said. “When the offense isn’t coming along, what we need is to have them do the other things, and (they) did.”

In the first set Florida struggled with passing en route to 10 attack errors.

Kentucky pounded Florida with attacks from a variety of different positions on the court, hitting .303 in the opening frame.

“You have to credit Kentucky there because they came out serving and passing so well,” Wise said. “I felt like we never got into a very good passing rhythm, and the numbers tell us that.”

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Despite their struggles, the Gators were able to mount an offensive turnaround in sets two and three, as the team hit .270 in the second stanza and then improved to an astounding .500 in the third.

Florida’s defense also showed improvement throughout the match. The Gators recorded eight blocks and held the Wildcats to just .045 hitting over the final three sets after yielding .303 hitting with just two blocks in the opener.

The Gators will now get Saturday off to travel before taking on No. 18 Tennessee in Knoxville, Tenn., on  Sunday at 2 p.m.

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